Population Health: An Overview

Photo by Anna Shvets

Population Health: An Overview

by Elizabeth Ansert DPM.

A prominent health topic has started to emerge in the United States as “population health”. This realm of public health has been defined as “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group” by Kindig and Stoddart [1]. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention views population health as an interdisciplinary approach that can allow health departments to connect practice to policy in order to create local change [2]. However, population health differs from public health in that population health gives an opportunity for agencies and organizations to work together to directly improve the community they serve and includes a larger range of factors in a person’s life [2].

“why some people are healthy while others are not?”


This area has evolved from asking “why some people are healthy while others are not?” to examining health outcomes, patterns of health determinants, and policies and interventions that link everything in a common thread. More simplistically, it is seen in Canada as a “newer research strategy for understanding the health of populations” [3].
Population health not only looks at health outcomes but examines a very wide range of patient factors that can affect one’s health. This includes but is not limited to:

· Social factors
· Environmental factors
· Economic factors
· Personal health practices
· Individual coping skills
· Health services
· Human biology
· Early childhood development

From a population health perspective, all of these factors and many more are interrelated and have a cumulative effect on a patient’s overall health over the course of their lifetime. The understanding and consequential effect of these factors are then used to assess and improve the health and wellbeing of populations that are most notably affected. Additionally, non-traditional communication and perspective is used to develop and improve health outcomes. Some examples can be how a person of a certain socioeconomic status, race, or gender may be more affected by an ailment and the systemic and life factors that may contribute to that population being at higher risk than others. Industry perspectives, local governments, academia, and many other institutions can be brought together to address population health concerns and develop solutions that have the best overall outcomes [2].

While population health may seem like it is a viable local tool that can be used to greatly improve community health directly, others have reservations about its implementation. For example, Coburn et al. have concerns about assumptions made by the population health model in Canada, where this model has been more established. Specifically, they are concerned that assumptions about how health knowledge is produced and an implicit interest group perspective will exclude the sociopolitical and class context. This will then shape the interest group’s power and what is deemed as acceptable for a population’s health. They also critique that the role of the agency is underestimated in the population health model.

Despite the critiques of the population health model in Canada, the United States has begun adopting the concept and incorporating it into today’s public health schooling and systems. A master’s in public health can have a subspecialty of population health. Various ailments are being studied within the US with a population health lens, such as sleep apnea, rural health disparities, and sedentary behavior [5-7]. Integrating this model is hoped to allow for various agencies, organizations, and aspects of a population’s health to be considered as a health factor and also become part of the solution to overall health improvements.



by Elizabeth Ansert DPM



  1. · Kindig, D., & Stoddart, G. (2003). What is population health? American journal of public health, 93(3), 380-383.
  2. · Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). What is Population Health. https://www.cdc.gov/pophealthtraining/whatis.html
  3. · Frank J. (2002). Canada Institute of Population and Public Health. Message from: Dr John Frank, scientific director, Institute of Population and Public Health.
  4. · Coburn, D., Denny, K., Mykhalovskiy, E., McDonough, P., Robertson, A., & Love, R. (2003). Population health in Canada: a brief critique. American Journal of Public Health, 93(3), 392-396.
  5. · Young, T., Peppard, P. E., & Gottlieb, D. J. (2002). Epidemiology of obstructive sleep apnea: a population health perspective. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 165(9), 1217-1239.
  6. · Hartley, D. (2004). Rural health disparities, population health, and rural culture. American journal of public health, 94(10), 1675-1678.
  7. · Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Phelan, J. C., & Link, B. G. (2013). Stigma as a fundamental cause of population health inequalities. American journal of public health, 103(5), 813-821.


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