Epidemiological Sociology and the Social Shaping of Population Health

Sociologists can claim new ground in the pursuit of research that broadens understanding of biomedicine and helps track the cause of disease. Reorienting interpretive methods to emphasize social factors exposes an unrecognized path to optimizing overall public health.

The major health surveys have failed to take advantage of significant opportunities to understand the social aspect of public health. With historical examples and analysis of specific trends in population health, this article relates social factors to the diffusion of biomedical knowledge and technology. 

Key Findings:

  • When society develops the capability to prevent or treat disease, health disparities across socioeconomic levels and along racial lines are enhanced.
  • Using the social shaping approach to examine already collected data related to heart disease demonstrates the possibility of finding untapped applications for past research.
  • Knowledge of the relationship between lung cancer and smoking and changes in smoking behavior took longer to permeate lower socioeconomic levels. Mortality rates leveled off faster at higher socioeconomic levels.

The author echoes past calls for a fusing of epidemiology and sociology, but emphasizes sociological concepts. A social shaping approach clears the way for evaluating the interplay of social factors, biomedicine and disease.