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Table 2 Definitions of epidemiology employed by all selected standard epidemiology textbooks

From: The science of epidemiology and the methods needed for public health assessments: a review of epidemiology textbooks

Author Definition of ‘Epidemiology’ (direct quotes unless indicated otherwise) Scope of definition
Ahrens, W and Pigeot, I [14] The study of the distribution and determinants of disease frequency (quoting MacMahon [17]) Broad
And
The study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations, and the application of the study to control of health problems (Quoting Last, [40]) (p 7)
Gerstman, BB [15] Epidemiology studies the causes, transmission, incidence, and prevalence of health and disease in human populations. Medical and public health disciplines use epidemiologic study results to solve and control human health problems (p xv) Broad
And
The study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations, and the application of this study to the control of health problems (p 3)
Koepsell, TD and Weiss, NS [12] In broad terms, epidemiologic research involves describing and interpreting patterns of disease occurrence in populations, in order to generate knowledge that can be used to prevent disease and avoid human suffering (p 17) Broad
Hennekens, CH and Buring, JE [16] The study of the distribution and determinants of disease frequency (quoting MacMahon [17]) Narrow
Lilienfeld, DE and Stolley, PD [13] …epidemiology can be regarded as a sequence of reasoning concerned with biological inferences derived from observations of disease occurrence and related phenomena in human population groups. To this we can add that epidemiology is an integrative, eclectic discipline deriving concepts and methods from other disciplines, such as statistics, sociology, and biology, for the study of disease in a population (p 4) Broad
MacMahon, B and Trichopolous, D [17] Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of disease frequency in human populations (p 1) Narrow
Merrill, RM and Timmreck, TC [18] Epidemiology is an investigative method used to detect the cause or source of disease, disorders, syndromes, conditions, or perils that cause pain, injury, illness, disability or death in human populations or groups (p 2) Narrow
Miettinen, O [19] …epidemiologic research has been concerned with the frequency of occurrence of illness and related phenomena (states and events) of health and health care (p 4) Narrow
Rothman KJ and Greenland, S [10] If the subject of epidemiology inquiry is taken to be the occurrence of disease and other health outcomes, it is reasonable to infer that the ultimate goal of most epidemiological research is the elaboration of causes that can explain patterns of disease occurrence (p 29) Narrow
Szklo, M and Nieto, FJ [11] Epidemiology is traditionally defined as the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations and the application of this study to control health problems. (p 3) Broad
Bonita, R et al.[20] Epidemiology is a fundamental science of public health (p 1) Broad
The study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations, and the application of the study to control of health problems (Quoting Last, [40]) (p 2)
Bhopal, R [21] Based on what it has done in the last 150 years, epidemiology is the science and practice which describes and explains disease patterns in populations, and puts this knowledge to use to prevent and control disease and improve health (p 14) Broad
Esteve, J et al. [22] Traditionally, epidemiology is defined as the study of the distribution of diseases over time and place and according to individual characteristics. For the purpose of this book, descriptive epidemiology can be defined by replacing this last term with ‘group characteristics’. This definition encompasses the intended contribution of descriptive epidemiology to etiologic research, as well as emphasising that data known only at a group level are the basis of the discipline (p 2) Narrow
Farmer, R and Lawrenson, R [23] Modern methods of epidemiological enquiry were first developed in the course of investigating outbreaks of infectious diseases in the 19th century. In contemporary medical practice the scope and applications of epidemiology have been greatly extended. Similar methods are now used in the development and assessment of preventive programmes and treatments, the assessment of the safety of medicines and in the planning and evaluation of health services. In contrast to clinical medicine, epidemiology involves the study of groups of people (populations) rather than direct study of individuals (p 3) Broad
Friis, RH and Sellers, TA [24] Epidemiology is concerned with the distribution and determinants of health and diseases, morbidity, injuries, disability, and mortality in populations. Epidemiologic studies are applied to the control of health problems in populations. The key aspects of this definition are determinants, distribution, population and health phenomena (eg morbidity and mortality) (p 6) Broad
Gordis, L [25] The study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations and the application of this study to control of health problems (quoting Last 1988) (p 3) Broad
Moon, G et al.[26] Epidemiology is concerned with the distribution and determinants of health and diseases, morbidity, injuries, disability and mortality in populations. It is about the health experiences of human communities (p 2) Narrow
Rossignol, A [27] Epidemiology is the foundational science of public health. Much as a yardstick measures length, epidemiologic investigations measure and compare the frequencies of disease, injury, and other health-related events in human populations (p 3) Narrow
Webb, P et al. [28] Epidemiology, therefore, is about measuring health, identifying the causes of ill-health and intervening to improve health (p 1) Broad
Vetter, N and Matthews, I [29] Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and change in diseases (p 3) Narrow and Broad
The purpose (author’s emphasis) of epidemiology is to identify things in people and their surroundings that affect the occurrence of disease. It forms part of preventive medicine and public health. Epidemiologic methods are also used to assess the effectiveness of new preventive and therapeutic treatments and the impact of different patterns of health care delivery (p 3)
Brownson RC and Petitti, DB [30] In our view, applied epidemiology synthesizes and applies the results of etiologic studies to set priorities for intervention; it evaluates public health interventions and policies; it measures the quality and outcome of medical care; and it effectively communicates epidemiologic findings to health professionals and the public. (p ix- preface) Broad
Carr, S et al.[31] None given  
Detels R et al.[32] Epidemiology is the basic science of public health, because it is the science that describes the relationship of health or disease with other health-related factors in human populations (p 447) Narrow
Also uses Last’s definition [40]
Donaldson, LJ and Scally, G [33] The epidemiological perspective is a key component in identifying health needs, examining the pattern of disease problems within and between populations, searching for the causes of disease, formulating health promotion and disease prevention strategies, studying the natural history of disease, and planning and evaluating health services. (p 38) Broad
Gillam, S et al.[34] At the core of epidemiology is the use of quantitative methods to study diseases in human populations and how they may be prevented. Thus epidemiology can be defined as the ‘study of distribution and determinants of health related states and events in the population and the application of this science to control health problems’ (p 24) Broad
Kerr, C et al.[35] None given  
Pomperleau, J and McKee, M [36] None given  
Schneider, M-J [37] Epidemiologic methods are used to investigate causes of diseases, to identify trends in disease occurrence that may influence the need for medical and public health services, and to evaluate the effectiveness of medical and public health interventions (p 51) Broad
Epidemiology studies the patterns of disease occurrence in human populations and the factors that influence these patterns (p 52)
Spasoff, RA [38] Analytical epidemiology deals with associations between exposures and outcomes, and usually has little concern for the populations in which these epidemiologic phenomena occur. But policy occurs in society, making population directly relevant, so demography and vital statistics are important topics for health policy. (p 32) Narrow
Tulchinsky, TH and Varavikova, EH [39] Epidemiology is the study of health events in a population, used to understand disease process and outcome, to determine factors in causation, and to provide direction for medical or public health intervention. The distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations help to identify potential interventions and priorities to control of health problems (p 114) Broad