Understanding the Complex Causes of Population Health

Award Year:
Sandro Galea, George Kaplan
Population Health, Social Determinants of Health
What really determines whether a population is healthy? Although our knowledge about biological processes, environmental conditions, and socioeconomic factors has expanded enormously, we are not yet able to put the pieces of the health puzzle together. For example, research on the rapid rise of obesity reveals a host of factors operating at many levels: our parents' weight, our income, the size of the food portions we eat, the availability of fresh produce in our neighborhoods, the advertisements we are exposed to, and so on. But what the research doesn't tell us is how much each factor contributes to the problem and which policy levers might work best to reverse specific diseases. Co-investigators at the University of Michigan, Sandro Galea, M.D., Dr.P.H., M.P.H. and George A. Kaplan, Ph.D. believe that new methods are needed to better understand population health and to produce scientific information that can be useful to policymakers. Their innovative project, Understanding the Complex Causes of Population Health, attempts to break new ground by using the theories and tools of complex systems to model how factors and conditions interact at many levels to produce health and disease.