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I.9.8 Epidemiological Anthropology: Health and disease.

Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events (including diseases) and the application of this study to the control of diseases and other health problems.

Epidemiology is the corner-stone method of public health research and helps in

  • informed policy decisions,
  • evidence-based medicine and
  • better targeting of preventive medicine

Epidemiological Anthropology is the relation between the two sciences, anthropology and epidemiology. It is interdisciplinary approach of study of health and its related issues like distribution, determinants and control.

  • Most of chronic, non-infectious diseases are caused by a number of life-style variables which are social and cultural in nature – an understanding of social and cultural factors is imperative
  • The spread of human diseases and their control depends to a very great extent on social and cultural factors
  • Disease etiology now requires understanding psychological, biological and socio-cultural characteristics of the hosts rather than exclusive concern with exposure to
    particular agent
  • Anthropologists on the other hand have shown increasing interest in potential contribution anthropology can make to public health, disease occurrence etc.

        – These factors led to the interdisciplinary approach of EA.

The interdisciplinary approach of EA revealed that  human disease or disorder is the result of many factors within a “causal web” – a web of determinants

    • Exogenous Factors – Biotic and Non-biotic
    • Endogenous Factors – Genetic
    • Demographic Factors
    • Behavior – Social, cultural and psychological

It is the goal of EA to identify and measure the relative importance of factors within this causal web of disease


  • health is more than physical fitness – it involves social, mental and emotional well-being.
    • Can be defined based on some measured values like temperature, pulse, breathing rates, BP, height, weight etc – which are biological criteria based on statistical concepts
    • Can also be defined as an ability to function effectively in complete harmony with one’s environment – the ability to meet physical, emotional and mental stresses of life


  • disease is any bio-medical deviance, A disease is any deviation from normal form and function, a disease is any departure from health – biological or behavioral
  • Illness is the subjective and social experience of disease, it also implies discomfort and inability to function optimally

Acute or Chronic Diseases

  • Acute diseases begin abruptly and are over soon
  • Chronic refers to a process that begins very gradually and persists over a long period of time

Benign VS Malignant

  • Benign diseases are generally without complications and a good prognosis (the outcome of disease) is usual
  • Malignancy implies a process that, if left alone, will result in fatal illness

Classification of Diseases- Variously classified

  • Topographic – by bodily region – Ex. Gastrointestinal
  • Anatomic – by organ or tissue – Heart disease or liver etc
  • Physiological – by function or effect -Metabolic or respiratory etc
  • Pathological – by nature of disease process – Neoplastic (tumors, cancers) or Inflammatory
  • Etiologic – Causal factors – Bacterial, viral, fungal etc
  • Epidemiological – by distribution, incidence etc.

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