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Social epidemiology lies at the intersection between the traditionally biomedical field of epidemiology, which is concerned with understanding the distribution, spread, and determinants of disease in populations, and the parts of sociology and other social sciences concerned with understanding the role of social factors, forces, and processes in the epidemiology of health and illness of individuals and populations. As a field, social epidemiology has been largely created since the 1950s by the combined efforts of persons trained in sociology and related social sciences to study the nature, etiology, and course of physical and mental health and illness in human populations.
The result has been the development and growth of a major new and vibrant interdisciplinary field and the transformation of scientific and popular understanding of the nature of determinants of physical health and illness. From a hegemonic paradigm that, for about a century through the 1950s, viewed physical health as largely a function of biomedical factors, physical health and illness are now understood by both scientists and lay persons as equally or more a function of social, psychological, and behavioral factors. Early understanding (e.g. Freudian) of mental health and illness as being as much or more psychosocial as biomedical in nature, contributed importantly to the development of the social epidemiology of physical health and illness. Mental health epidemiology and treatment, in contrast, have headed in a more biological direction.
- House, J. S. (2002) Understanding social factors and inequalities in health: 20th century progress and 21st century prospects. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 23: 125-42.
- Link, B. G. & Phelan, J. C. (1995) Social conditions as fundamental causes of disease. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 35 (extra issue): 80-94.