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Although still a modest subfield within demography, biodemography is arguably the fastest growing part of demography and one of the most innovative and stimulating. The two main branches today involve: (1) biological-demographic research directly related to human health, with emphasis on health surveys, a field of research that might be called biomedical demography (or ”epidemography because it is a cross between demography and epidemiology), and (2) research at the intersection of demography and biology, an endeavor that will be referred to as biological demography.
The first branch is characterized by demographers engaging in collaborative research with epidemiologists. This is very important, for both fields and for deeper understanding of human health. Researchers in the second branch face an even bigger challenge. Both of the two main branches of biodemography have many smaller branches. As in any innovative, rapidly growing interdisciplinary field, these smaller branches form tangles and thickets.
Consequently, it is difficult to present a coherent structure for the evolving research in bio-demography. One way to proceed is to make use of the hierarchical ordering of knowledge within biology. This provides a basis for ordering the research subdivisions that range from the molecular and cellular to the ecological and evolutionary. This ordering of biodemography by levels is useful because, as physiologist George Bartholomew noted over four decades ago, the significance of every level of biological organization can be found above and explanations of the mechanism in the level below. For example, the results of studies on different APOE gene alleles shed important light on molecular mechanisms for different risks of ischemic heart disease, Alzheimer s disease, and other chronic conditions, thus providing information on a person s individual risk of these chronic diseases and, in turn, informing the design of population surveys and model construction for epidemiological forecasting.
- Carey J. R. (2008) Biodemography: research prospects and directions. Demographic Research 19: 1749—58.