Home > Epidemiology, Health > Definition, scope, and uses of epidemiology

Definition, scope, and uses of epidemiology


Epidemiology as defined by Last is “the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations, and the application of this study to the prevention and control of health problems”

Epidemiologists are concerned not only with death, illness and disability, but also with more positive health states and, most importantly, with the means to improve health. The term “disease” encompasses all unfavorable health changes, including injuries and mental health.


A focus of an epidemiological study is the population defined in geographical or other terms; for example, a specific group of hospital patients or factory workers could be the unit of study. A common population used in epidemiology is one selected from a specific area or country at a specific time. This forms the base for defining subgroups with respect to sex, age group or ethnicity. The structures of populations vary between geographical areas and time periods. Epidemiological analyses must take such variation into account.

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