Epidemio…What?

There are seven departments here at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and six of them are fairly self-explanatory:

(1)  Biostatistics (BIOSTAT) – the application of statistical methodology to biology (or more specifically, health)

(2)  Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) – the study of how the environment (nature, chemicals, occupation, school, home, etc.) affects human health

(3)  Health Behavior and Health Education (HBHE) – asks questions such as: “are hand-washing signs in bathrooms effective?” and “how can we best promote healthy habits and programs?”

(4)  Health Informatics (HI) – health data management

(5)  Health Management and Policy (HMP) – running hospitals and proposing laws

(6)  Nutritional Sciences (NUTR) – essentially… you are what you eat

But then, we go Greek…

(7)  Epidemiology (EPID)

As a result, a typical conversation in my life goes like this:

        Person: “You’re a graduate student, that’s cool. What are you studying?”

        Me: “Epidemiology.”

        Person: “Huh…?”

So here we go. Please, bear with me as I break out my middle school grammar.

        epi- over, above, on, upon

        demio- people, population

        -logy to speak, study

epi + demio + logy- to study that which is upon the people

What is upon the people you ask? Disease.

However, us epidemiologists typically use a more descriptive definition of what we do:

Epidemiology – the study of the distribution and determinants of disease within a population

The two main questions in epidemiology are:

  1. Where is disease in a population? (distribution)
  2. What causes disease in a population? (determinants)

So go forth and use your new knowledge wisely!

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