OBSSR and AHRQ Release Population Health: Behavioral and Social Science Insights

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) have jointly released, Population Health: Behavioral and Social Science Insights, which details what is known and remaining gaps in research “about the effects of various behavioral and social factors on longevity, disability and illness, and the quality of life, primarily at the population level.”

The volume was the vision of former OBSSR director Robert Kaplan and co-editors Michael Spittel and Daryn David who note that the book’s purpose “is to gain a better understanding of the multitude of factors that determine longer life and improved quality of life in the years a person is alive.” Population Health consists of 23 chapters that address such factors as “access to health care, educational attainment, nutrition, physical activity, use of tobacco products, and non-communicable diseases.” It focuses on improving methods for behavioral and social science research, particularly how the social and behavioral science community could “bring a range of tools to bear on developing interventions that have the potential to improve health and well-being.” The volume also examines the question of the “optimal point at which to intervene, ranging from the national, to community, to individual levels.” The necessity of utilizing social and behavioral science findings to advance population well-being is addressed as well.

Population Health is a product of OBSSR’s long-term strategic priority setting. In addition to identifying the most important factors that influence the length and quality of human life, distinguished scholars were invited to contribute chapters summarizing current research along with identifying directions for future scientific research.  Contributors include David Williams, Wendy Baldwin, Samuel Preston, David Abrams, David Holtgrave, Bruce McEwen, Richard Frank, and Sherry Gilied, among others.

In the volume’s forward, AHRQ director Richard Kronick notes that the book “broadens our perspective by helping us to understand the context in which health problems develop and the environments in which health care is delivered.”

In his forward, OBSSR director William Riley emphasizes that “population health is a growing and diverse research area,” adding that “advancing population health methods is critical if we are to understand and target these mechanisms to develop population-based interventions that are empirically-based and have the potential to impact population.”

In the volume’s preface, Christine Bachrach, University of Maryland and a former OBSSR Acting Director, highlights that research has typically targeted the individual and emphasizes that what is missing “from these medicalized individual-focused approaches to health is the recognition that health is as much the product of the social and physical environments people occupy as it is of their biology and behavior.” Bachrach maintains that the “promise of developing multi-level solutions to population health problems depends on continuing to build the scientific evidence that informs these efforts.” It will also require the spectrum of scientific disciplines to “combine their knowledge about the societal, behavioral, and biological causes of health and work towards an integrated science . . . that is coming to be known as population health science,” she contended.

Population Health: Behavioral and Social Science Insights is available as a PDF. Print copies may be ordered from AHRQ.

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Posted in Issue 20 (November 3), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

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