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Social Epidemiology

Social epidemiology is about how a society makes people sick and/or healthy. We address not only the identification of new disease risk factors (e.g., deficient social capital) but also how well-known exposures (e.g., cigarette smoking, lead paint, health insurance) emerge and are maintained by the social system.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

This course is about understanding the determinants of health from a broad perspective. We focus on how social relationships and institutions -- such as familial relationships, national policies, and global economic forces -- promote or undermine the health of populations. The course covers existing evidence of health disparities, research methods, and theories relevant to the topic.

The course is interesting because it reveals the so-called fundamental causes of disease and health disparities recognizable within social groups. For example, we examine why a flu germ can affect whole groups of people differently. In short, the course challenges the notion that health is a narrowly defined medical problem.

Students in the course will listen to lectures, read provided materials, and complete quizzes and tests that examine comprehension and one's ability to synthesize ideas.

Upon completion of the course students should:

  • have a deep appreciation for how social arrangements impact the health of populations,
  • be able to critically evaluate the scientific and popular health literature that address the causes of disease,
  • be able to measure key social drivers such as race and socioeconomic status, and 
  • be able to conceive of research strategies that can answer questions critical for policy making.

Course Syllabus

Week 1:  Background and History
What is social epidemiology and where did it come from? What is different about it?

Week 2: Issues
What are the fundamental issues (e.g., environment, race, genetics) in/for social epidemiology?

Week 3: Health Disparities 
How can social epidemiology improve our understanding of the identification and analysis of, if not remedies for, health disparities?

Week 4: Theories and Constructs
What theories and/or constructs are fundamental to social epidemiology?

Week 5: Measurement
What are some fundamental measurement issues in social epidemiology?

Week 6: Design & Inference
What are some fundamental design and analysis tools in social epidemiology?

Week 7: Doing Things
What social epidemiological interventions work and fail, and why?

Recommended Background

Students should be curious, enthusiastic readers, with undergraduate-level analytical and critical thinking skills; and have an interest in policy implications surrounding social and societal health issues. A basic understanding of statistics would also be useful.  

Course Format

The class will consist of 7 lectures, one per week. Each lecture will be made up of 2-4 video modules or parts. Each of the video modules will be about 8-12 minutes in length.

Most of the video modules (i.e., parts of the lectures) will have a mini quiz of one or two multiple choice questions. There will also be standalone readings and (group) homework assignments that are not part of video lectures. Additionally, there will be an overall lecture quiz for each of the seven lectures. This overall quiz will have approximately 10 multiple choice questions in it. There will not be a final exam.


Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment for this course? 
Yes. Students who complete the course will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.