Review: Changes in Population Characteristics and their Implications on Public Health Research

There is an article by Du and colleagues titled ‘Changes in Population Characteristics and their Implication on Public Health Research’ freely available here. I found the article interesting in terms of the methodology. The researchers are interested in how the changing characteristics of a population impact on health related variables. Their study is based in New York. In their conclusions, the researchers write that

..most census tracts experienced growing income inequalities and an increased poverty rate

So the bottom line in this case is that changing demographics in ‘neighbourhoods’  have been associated with changes in poverty in those same neighbourhoods’. However in order to arrive at this conclusion, the researchers have used census data and more specifically census tracts. In the United States the census tract dates back almost 100 years and is described by the US census bureau thus

Census tracts are small, relatively permanent statistical subdivisions of a county

In the United Kingdom however, the census data is collected in a different way and with reference to the Office for National Statistics,

Output Areas (OAs) were created specifically for statistical purposes on the basis of data from the 2001 Census, using objective and systematic criteria in an automatic zoning process, and providing a consistent geographical building brick throughout England and Wales

These subtleties in collection of census data might well affect a study of this nature as the researchers are interested in how neighbourhoods have changed with time. However in terms of prevalence data for diseases, presumably the data collections for neighbourhoods perhaps wouldn’t matter so much as the data is aggregated to form town or county level data which is then combined with a registry for a specific disease to produce the prevalence figures. Indeed later in Du’s article, the authors state that

Because this study was conducted at the census tract level, population patterns may not be generalized to other census units, such as county or the census block group

In conclusion although the authors have produced interesting findings the study is an example of a study in which health related analysis can take place within ‘statistical subdivisions’ of an assigned region. In turn, the findings of this type of analysis can be usefully applied to health service delivery.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Changes in Population Characteristics and their Implications on Public Health Research

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