Introduction to Epidemiology

Donna K. Arnett, Steven A. Claas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Epidemiology concerns itself with the incidence, distribution, cause, control, and prevention of disease. In contrast to other branches of medical science that focus on the health status of individuals, epidemiology is the study of the health status of populations. Epidemiology employs the tools of basic science (e.g., observation, hypothesis testing, statistics, correlation, and causal reasoning) to protect, promote, and restore health and well-being in populations. This chapter discusses the fundamental principles of descriptive and analytic epidemiology. Our goal is not to provide definitive descriptions of all elements of population-based medical research, but rather to explain the rudiments of the science of epidemiology and create a context in which topics presented in subsequent chapters can be understood. We define the concepts of incidence and prevalence, outline the basic epidemiological principles of risk and association, discuss the various types of studies used to conduct epidemiological research, and caution against forces and factors that may threaten the validity and reliability of such studies. We also consider the theoretical and practical constraints on making claims of causation in epidemiology. We explore the differences between traditional, public health epidemiology and clinical epidemiology. Finally, we discuss the role of the concepts of sex, gender, race, and ethnicity in epidemiology, and we encourage health professionals to define and deploy these socially charged categories with care.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationClinical and Translational Science
Subtitle of host publicationPrinciples of Human Research: Second Edition
Number of pages17
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Association
  • Cause
  • Epidemiology
  • Incidence
  • Prevalence
  • Public health
  • Reliability
  • Risk
  • Study design
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Medicine (all)


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