Guns, Obesity, and Opioids: A Population Health Science Perspective on 3 Contemporary Epidemics | Milbank Quarterly

 Photo by James Cridland via Flickr

Photo by James Cridland via Flickr

The firearm, obesity, and opioid epidemics are among the most important public health crises of our time. Each epidemic has a complex etiology that challenges efforts at mitigation. From this, a central question arises for researchers, clinicians, and policymakers: How can we identify what matters most within a broad range of causal factors in these epidemics, and can we draw cross-epidemic inferences that will help inform our thinking?

The principles of population health science can shed light on the fundamental forces that drive each epidemic. Because population health science is a relatively new field, we do not yet have substantial agreement on a set of axioms to guide our work.1 Two years ago, building on the work of Geoffrey Rose,2 a colleague and I proposed 9 principles to guide the science of population health.3 These principles, presented in the box, offer a framework that can inform research on the drivers of population health. I focus here on 2 of these principles to illustrate how they can apply to—and help set priorities for—these 3 wide-ranging epidemics.

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