Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

POPLHLTH 111 - Population Health

15 Points

Semester 1


To introduce frameworks and tools for measuring and understanding and improving the health of populations, both locally and globally. These frameworks and tools are derived from epidemiology, demography, public health, environmental health and global health sciences.

Course outline

Population health is just what it says – the health of populations – and the goal of studying population health is to improve the health of populations. Students will be introduced to frameworks and tools for measuring the frequency, understanding the causes and controlling the impact of disease (i.e. poor health) in populations, both locally and globally. We use frameworks and tools to describe the distributions of disease (how frequently it occurs in different populations) and the determinants (the causes) of different distributions of disease in populations. This knowledge helps to inform ways of controlling the impact of disease through health promotion and disease prevention programmes in whole populations, through planning better health services for specific populations and through improving health care practice for groups within populations.

Traditionally, health sciences and practice have been most concerned with each individual patient as an ‘island’ and with the biomedical disciplines such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pathology, that "look inside" that individual to identify causes of disease and possible treatments (the microscope approach). Although medicine’s approach to the health of individuals extends beyond a simply biomedical model, the study of population health brings another important dimension to both health science and health practice by "looking outside" the individual to groups (and populations) and to the effects of the physical and social environment on health of individuals and groups (the telescope approach).

This course introduces future health professionals (both clinical and non-clinical) to:

  1. Epidemiology, which is the science of measuring the distribution and determinants of disease frequency in populations and the effectiveness of interventions to control disease
  2. The social and environmental determinants of disease and their distributions in populations
  3. Population health interventions to improve population health through health promotion and through the prevention and management of disease
  4. The distribution, determinants and control of important local and global population health problems

Key Course Objectives

For many students in this course, it will be one of the first experiences of reading and writing academic material in the health sciences. The development of necessary academic skills is a process that lasts the whole of your degree and indeed your career. During this course you will begin to acquire these skills in a systemic way.

The key skills you will begin to develop while you are studying this course include:

Understanding the basic principles and framework and apply the measurement tools of Epidemiology

  • Understanding and using the frameworks and tools for identifying and describing the major social, environmental and demographic determinants odiseasese in populations
  • Understanding and using the different intervention frameworks underpinning population health interventions today
  • Recognising the current major local and global population health problems and understand the frameworks for describing their distributions, determinants and control
  • Note-taking
  • Developing MCQs for peer review
  • Writing short exam and test answers

Course structure

There are three one-hour lectures each week and four two-hour workshops for the semester. The content of this course is organised into 4 modules.








Measuring the frequency and causes of health disease in populations

Epidemiology involves measuring the frequency of health-related states and events in groups, communities and populations. Epidemiologists are ‘disease detectives’ who investigate the distribution (i.e. patterns) and determinants (i.e. causes) of disease and disability in populations and the effects of interventions on health outcomes, in order to identify ways to control health-related problems. This section of the course is an introduction to the principles, the framework and the measurement tools of epidemiology and their uses in population health and clinical medicine.

  • Epidemiologic thinking: numerator ÷ denominator
  • The common design features of all epidemiological studies: GATE
  • Measuring disease frequency: incidence & prevalence
  • Comparing disease frequencies: risk ratios & risk differences
  • Non-random error (bias) in epidemiological studies: RAMBO
  • Random error in epidemiological studies: ±1.96 x SE
  • The design features and uses of different epidemiological studies
  • Dealing with crude data – making sense of national statistics







Understanding the Determinants of Health

For some diseases, age and gender are important determinants of health. Many infectious diseases, such as measles and meningococcal meningitis are often called ‘childhood diseases’ because relatively few adults contract these diseases.

Similarly, some diseases are more common in females than males – breast cancer is a good example.

But age and gender aren’t the only determinants of health. What we eat and drink, where we live and work, our hobbies, as well as the choices our parents have made in the past, all play an important role in our health and wellbeing.

In this module, we explore of the key determinants of health, and approach these from a social, demographic and environmental perspective. While the focus is on population health, measures of socioeconomic position for individuals, and for geographic areas will be introduced and used to explore inequalities in health. In addition, we investigate the importance of an ecosystem approach to understanding the determinants of health, and discover how geography and health are inextricably linked.

  • New Zealand’s changing society and its impact on population health.
  • Framing the determinants of population health: the Rainbow Model
  • Measuring the Socioeconomic Determinants of Health
  • Māori Health: Taking a History
  • The impact of accessibility on our health
  • Neighbourhoods and Population Health
  • Mapping Variations in Health
  • Understanding the Determinants of Health: case study
  • The Treaty of Waitangi and Ethnicity coding in Health









Strategies for improving population health

The goal of a quality health care provider (e.g. Hospital, GP) is to deliver effective, efficient and equitable care to all those in a community or population. Healthy public policy, on the other hand, includes goals for protecting health, promoting wellbeing and preventing disease. In this module we build on the epidemiological tools learnt in Module 1 to move from considering evidence to acting on that evidence in particular social and policy contexts. We explore actions within the health care service as well as in broader policy initiatives. We will consider how to decide whether to take action, as well as how to plan that action, with helpful examples such as screening. 

  • Population Health and Causality
  • Prioritising in population health
  • Prevention, protection, promotion – approaches to taking action
  • Screening – a special type prevention strategy
  • Health promotion frameworks in action
  • Epidemiology in action
  • Strategies for Improving Population Health






Global Population Health: addressing the burden of disease

Understanding and addressing major health problems that affect the global population is a matter of urgency. The determinants and consequences of most sources of disease are not restricted by national borders. The challenges involved in addressing these have important implications for New Zealand. This module uses The Global Burden of Disease Project (GBD) as a foundation to identify the distribution of the main conditions limiting healthy life. Following this introduction, we will use several health conditions as case studies to examine the epidemiological patterns and human rights perspectives that can inform approaches to addressing the global and national burden of disease.

  • Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Project: Overview
  • "Disability” and the social determinants of health
  • Māori Health: an indigenous rights perspective
  • Climate Change
  • GBD – case study 1: Chronic diseases and Obesity
  • GBD – case study 2: Road traffic injury
  • GBD – case study 3: HIV/AIDS
  • Health of Young people in Aotearoa NZ

Course assessments

Test 1


Test 2




TBL Workshops


Final exam


Recommended readings/textbook

This course does not have a prescribed textbook; however we do strongly recommend students to read Essential Epidemiology (2nd Edition) by Webb and Bain as their primarly text for module 1 and 3.

The required readings stated on the lecture outlines can be found through the Course Pages on the library’s web site.

Course Director

Course Coordinator