Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Foundations for health improvement. Productive epidemiological public health research 1919–1998
  1. C La Vecchia

    Statistics from

    Request Permissions

    If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

    W W Holland. (Pp 236; price not stated). TSO, Norwich, 2002.

    For our young colleagues, the relevance of this book is justified by its reference lists alone, as these include most of the papers that provided the most important achievements of epidemiology and public health from 1919 onwards. The book is easy to consult and read, because for each calendar period the main topics are separately considered—that is, infectious diseases, occupational factors, nutrition, environment, etc. Thus, for instance, under the headings tobacco or air pollution, summary overviews are given on the earlier developments of research and control of these risk factors, which remain of central interest for their public health relevance today.

    A second reason for appreciating this book is related to its attention to the major social and public health implications of our discipline. Over the past few years, we have seen (and participated to) endless debates on the potential impact of risk factors such as electromagnetic fields or hair dyes, whose public health relevance, if any, remains marginal. Furthermore, the interest of many of us has been often focused more to the publication of modest excess relative risks, than to the critical understanding and evaluation of their potential public health implications. It is thus a pleasure to read a book that provides an overview of the main achievements and contributions of our discipline to public health and society in its broader terms. The book also includes some interesting chapter on methodological developments (from questionnaires to statistical methods) and philosophy of medicine.

    Most of us will also find of interest the chapter on trends in UK and US society and politics, which is unusually objective and far from strong partisan opinions, as well as those on the history of the development of public health departments in UK and US universities and other research institutions. In a period of conflicts of interest, the summary of main funding sources is also of important relevance.

    A message drawn from the book is that, over the past few decades, US research in public health has improved more than its UK counterpart. Any comparison between public health institutions and achievements in the UK and the US, however, leaves most of—who live and work outside those two countries—with a sense of admiration and envy.