In this session, we will consider how the environment influences the health of individuals and populations, and how the local geography of the place we live and the places we and others travel to can impact our well-being. The relationship between geography and health was recognized as far back as the time of Hippocrates, who stated that “airs, waters, and places” all had a significant impact on human health. In Week 1, we learned about the cholera outbreak in London in 1854, and how John Snow’s study of the homes of people who had died and where they got their water led to a ground-breaking understanding of how public health interventions can interrupt an epidemic.
Environmental health concerns often are areas where public health and policy are important tools, and progress in protecting health requires the concerted efforts of a large number of concerned stakeholders.
To gain an understanding of how the environment impacts health, please complete the following before class:
In the first part of this session, we will consider how the relationship between gender, sexual orientation and health by examining the historical and present-day influences of sexism, cissexism and heterosexism on disparities in health status and care. Gender, like race, is considered a “master status” in US society: one of the first things we notice about someone is their gender and gender is central to our perceptions of self and our attribution of characteristics and qualities to others. Medicine is not immune to these social influences and in many ways, has perpetuated inequities based on gender.
In the second part of this session, we will explore the effects of gender-based violence as an example of how social determinants of health interact with gender and other social determinants of equity.
To gain an understanding of the relationship between gender and health, please complete the following before class.
In this session, we will continue learning about the social determinants of health with a focus on social class and neighborhood effects. Students were introduced to social class/classism as a fundamental cause of health inequity in Week 1. This week, we expand on the SES-health relationship by describing what it is about social class that effects health both in relative and absolute terms. We also cover key aspects of environments and theories of how environmental conditions affect health. We close by offering anecdotes from faculty and community members on risk factors, protective factors, resilience, and prevention.
In this session, we will consider how organizations, including healthcare systems and public health institutions, promote the health and well-being of entire patient populations by addressing problems that impact large numbers of people. We will readdress topics that were introduced in week 1, including thinking broadly about what constitutes “health” and how we can address some of the social determinants of health. In order to do this, we need to define “population health” and understand what is meant by this term.
In addition, this session focuses on the “Triple Aim.” The Triple Aim involves three goals that are critical to improving the health of populations, whether here in the United States or elsewhere:
Improving the individual experience of care.
Reducing the per capita costs of care for populations.
This reading is intended to help students gain further detail on population health terminology and distinctions between population medicine at the clinic level and public health focused on larger populations.
Remember the World Health Organization definition of health we learned in Week 1: Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Remember the definition of public health from Week 1: Public health is the science and the art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and organized community efforts to prevent, identify, preempt, and counter threats to the public’s health.
Population health aims to address health disparities and improve health outcomes for the entire population of a specific geographic area.
Population medicine aims to address health disparities and improve health outcomes for the population served by a given care provider (clinic, hospital, etc.).
Both public and population health efforts rely on data that may often be limited; physicians can help improve public health data by reporting patient outcomes as required by law.
All physicians can contribute in some way to health improvements at the population level by supporting public and population health programs
In this foundational article, social epidemiologists Bruce Link and Jo Phelan argue three main points:
social conditions (e.g., SES, inequality, racism, segregation) have a causal effect on health and well-being,
to understand patterns of disease prevalence and incidence, we need to contextualize risk factors and understand what conditions put people “at risks of risks” (i.e., people in poor neighborhoods have an elevated risk of exposure to crime which increases the risk of stress accumulation), and
researchers need to acknowledge that social conditions are not just distal causes of disease, they are FUNDAMENTAL causes, meaning that the relationship between the social conditions (e.g., SES) and health is robust and will remain present even as the risk factors for disease and the leading causes of disease/death change.
This is because high SES individuals are afforded flexible resources that they can use to avoid risks and minimize the consequences of disease.