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Changing the world? Reflections on the interface between social science, epidemiology and public health
  1. Clare Bambra
  1. Department of Geography, Durham University, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr C Bambra, Department of Geography, Wolfson Research Institute, Queen’s Campus, Durham University, Stockton on Tees TS17 6BH, UK; clare.bambra{at}

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Exciting intellectual discoveries often happen on the boundaries between academic disciplines. Historically, the interface between epidemiology and social science has clearly been one of the most fruitful as it has enabled the “fusion of data with ideas”:1 epidemiology has developed and refined sophisticated methods of data collection, while the diverse and fluid social sciences have offered multiple theories through which such data can be interpreted and applied. Combining epidemiological methods with social science theories has thus unleashed the potential to both describe and explain the nature of population health. The subdiscipline of social epidemiology (the study of the social distribution and social determinants of health) is probably the most prominent outcome of the interface. The combination of social science theories and epidemiological methods has resulted in a strong and widely accepted view that the most important determinants of inequalities in health are social, economic and political,2 3 4 and that the solutions to health inequality also lie in the social, political and economic fields. This has inevitably resulted in the promotion of upstream policy interventions as the best way of improving population health and reducing health inequalities.5 The interaction with social science has thereby enabled epidemiology to move beyond the proximate and embrace the study of the more macro determinants of health and …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.