How Relevant is Demography to the Field of Public Health?

Demography, the scientific study of human population dynamics, has many applications to the field of public health. Without a full understanding of the population size and composition, public health practitioners cannot assess how to best address the population’s health needs. Demographers study five processes that affect population size and composition: fertility, mortality, migration, and social mobility. Knowing these factors will allow public health practitioners to forecast future population size and structure. Understanding these dynamics helps practitioners assess the risks of disease and death for different population groups.

Demographers use a wide range of research methodologies. They often use government censuses and registries of births and deaths, as well as surveys of smaller groups within a population. Demographers also use projection methods to estimate health care needs. Demographers study migration, fertility, and related processes, and examine these processes at both the population and individual level. The field of demography is important for many reasons, but one major application is to aid in societal planning.

Demographic data can provide valuable insight on existing health priorities and areas where resources are scarce. Disasters like Hurricane Katrina brought attention to the plight of certain population groups. These underserved and dependent populations were especially vulnerable. Demographers’ expertise should be incorporated into PHEP policy. Using data from Census tracts and other sources, policymakers can determine where vulnerable populations are and how best to reach them.

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