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R J Taylor, B H Smith. (Pp 207; £16.95). Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-263168-3
This book serves as a concise summary textbook for introducing medical students to basic concepts in public health and social science perspectives on health. The book is divided into three sections encompassing society, health, and illness; social, economic, environmental, mental, and lifespan influences on health; and illness and health care in the community. Chapter topics include: an introduction to basic epidemiological measures; definitions of health and illness; social influences on health; health promotion; the organisation of medical care; disability; chronic illness; and death and dying. While most examples presented are based on the practice and organisation of medicine in the United Kingdom, the topics covered are applicable to other industrialised societies and several cross national comparisons are included.
The purpose of the book is to provide a short digest of community health topics relevant to undergraduate medical education. Medical students, therefore, are the primary audience that can benefit from this text. The book’s themes emphasise the importance of viewing health in a wider framework than that of medicine or health care and recognising the relevance of a person’s background and social context in treating patients. The material is too elementary and distilled to serve as a text for graduate public health students and may be more useful in an undergraduate health sciences curriculum as it written in an engaging style with concrete examples and helpful study tools, although the focal point of the book is medical practice.
While the text is not a comprehensive digest of the current state of knowledge regarding the relation of social and environmental factors to health, and important topics are omitted, for example, sexuality, the book succeeds in communicating its central premise that awareness of the psychological and social forces that shape human behaviour and health is an essential element of good medical practice.
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