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Population health

Population health has been defined as “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.”[1] It is an approach to health that aims to improve the health of an entire population. One major step in achieving this aim is to reduce health inequities among population groups. Population health seeks to step beyond the individual-level focus of mainstream medicine and public health by addressing a broad range of factors that impact health on a population-level, such as environment, social structure, resource distribution, etc. An important theme in population health is importance of social determinants of health and the relatively minor impact that medicine and healthcare have on improving health overall.

From a population health perspective, health has been defined not simply as a state free from disease but as "the capacity of people to adapt to, respond to, or control life's challenges and changes".[2]

Income inequality and mortality in 282 metropolitan areas of the United States. Mortality is correlated with both income and inequality.

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[edit] The role of economic inequality

Recently, there has been increasing interest from epidemiologists on the subject of economic inequality and its relation to the health of populations. There is a very robust correlation between socioeconomic status and health. This correlation suggests that it is not only the poor who tend to be sick when everyone else is healthy, but that there is a continual gradient, from the top to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, relating status to health. This phenomenon is often called the "SES Gradient". Lower socioeconomic status has been linked to chronic stress, heart disease, ulcers, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of cancer, and premature aging. Despite the reality of the SES Gradient, there is debate as to its cause. A number of researchers (A. Leigh, C. Jencks, A. Clarkwest - see also Russell Sage working papers) see a definite link between economic status and mortality due to the greater economic resources of the better-off, but they find little correlation due to social status differences.

Other researchers such as Richard Wilkinson, J. Lynch, and G.A. Kaplan have found that socioeconomic status strongly affects health even when controlling for economic resources and access to health care. Most famous for linking social status with health are the Whitehall studies - a series of studies conducted on civil servants in London. The studies found that, despite the fact that all civil servants in England have the same access to health care, there was a strong correlation between social status and health. The studies found that this relationship stayed strong even when controlling for health-affecting habits such as exercise, smoking and drinking. Furthermore, it has been noted that no amount of medical attention will help decrease the likelihood of someone getting type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis - yet both are more common among populations with lower socioeconomic status. Lastly, it has been found that amongst the wealthiest quarter of countries on earth (a set stretching from Luxembourg to Slovakia) there is no relation between a country's wealth and general population health [1] - suggesting that past a certain level, absolute levels of wealth have little impact on population health, but relative levels within a country do. The concept of psychosocial stress attempts to explain how psychosocial phenomenon such as status and social stratification can lead to the many diseases associated with the SES Gradient. Higher levels of economic inequality tend to intensify social hierarchies and generally degrades the quality of social relations - leading to greater levels of stress and stress related diseases. Richard Wilkinson found this to be true not only for the poorest members of society, but also for the wealthiest. Economic inequality is bad for everyone's health. Inequality does not only affect the health of human populations. David H. Abbott at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center found that among many primate species, less egalitarian social structures correlated with higher levels of stress hormones among socially subordinate individuals. Research by Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University provides similar findings.

[edit] The importance of family planning programs

Family planning programs (including contraceptives) play a major role in population health. For example, the United States Agency for International Development lists as benefits of its international family planning program:[3]

  • "Protecting the health of women by reducing high-risk pregnancies"
  • "Protecting the health of children by allowing sufficient time between pregnancies"
  • "Fighting HIV/AIDS through providing information, counseling, and access to male and female condoms"
  • "Reducing abortions"
  • "Supporting women's rights and opportunities for education, employment, and full participation in society"
  • "Protecting the environment by stabilizing population growth"

[edit] Population health management (PHM)

One method to improve population health is population health management (PHM), which has been defined as “the technical field of endeavor which utilizes a variety of individual, organizational and cultural interventions to help improve the morbidity patterns (i.e., the illness and injury burden) and the health care use behavior of defined populations”.[4] PHM is distinguished from disease management by including more chronic conditions and diseases, by use of "a single point of contact and coordination," and by "predictive modeling across multiple clinical conditions".[5] PHM is considered broader than disease management in that it also includes "intensive care management for individuals at the highest level of risk" and "personal health management... for those at lower levels of predicted health risk.".[6] Many PHM-related articles are published in Population Health Management, the official journal of DMAA: The Care Continuum Alliance.[7]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Kindig D, Stoddart G. What is population health? American Journal of Public Health 2003 Mar;93(3):380-3. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  2. ^ Frankish, CJ et al. "Health Impact Assessment as a Tool for Population Health Promotion and Public Policy." Vancouver: Institute of Health Promotion Research, University of British Columbia, 1996. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  3. ^ USAID. Ramily planning. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  4. ^ Hillman, Michael. Testimony before the Subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Ways and Means, hearing on promoting disease management in Medicare. 2002-04-16. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  5. ^ Howe, Rufus, and Christopher Spence. Population health management: Healthways' PopWorks. HCT Project 2004-07-17, volume 2, chapter 5, pages 291-297. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  6. ^ Coughlin JF, Pope J, Leedle BR. Old age, new technology, and future innovations in disease management and home health care. Home Health Care Management & Practice 2006 Apr;18(3):196-207. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
  7. ^ DMAA: The Care Continuum Alliance. Publications. Population Health Management. Retrieved 2008-10-12.

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