After epidemiological research: What next? Community action for health promotion

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11 Scopus citations


The underlying purpose of all epidemiological research is ultimately to use inferences in order to prevent disease and promote health and well-being. Effective skills in translating results into appropriate policy, programs, and interventions are inherently tricky, and often politically controversial. Generally they are not taught to epidemiologists formally, even though they are a traditional part of public health practice. To move from findings to policy change requires that the informed and committed epidemiologist should know how to: (1) organize affected parties to negotiate successfully with government and industry; (2) activate populations at risk to protect their health (3) communicate responsibly with lay persons about their health risks so as to encourage effective activism; (4) collaborate with other professionals to achieve disease prevention and health promotion goals. The paper presents and discusses four case studies to illustrate these strategies: (1) the grass-roots social action that was the response of the community to the environmental contamination at Love Canal, New York; (2) mobilization of recognized leaders within the gay community to disseminate HIV risk reduction techniques; (3) collaboration with an existing voluntary organization interested in community empowerment through health promotion in a Chicago slum by using existing hospital, emergency room admissions, and local motor vehicle accident data; (4) a self-help group, MADD (mothers against drunk driving) which fought to change public policy to limit and decrease drunk driving. In addition, the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration and responsible communication with the public is emphasized. Factors that limit the ability of the epidemiologist to move into public health action are discussed, including who owns the research findings, what is the degree of scientific uncertainty, and the cost-benefit balance of taking affirmative public action. Putting epidemiological knowledge to good use should be an integral part of an epidemiologist's repertoire.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-394
Number of pages20
JournalPublic Health Reviews
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1994


  • case-studies
  • community organization
  • empowerment
  • multidisciplinary collaboration
  • risk communication
  • self-help groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Community and Home Care
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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