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Under Your Skin: The Social Determinants of Health

This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.

Course Description

Health and illness are not distributed at random in the population. Rather, health follows the fault lines of economic and social inequalities present in human societies, resulting in consistent patterns of health and disease being predicted by class, race, gender, and nation of origin. Beyond individual characteristics, there is evidence that our social environment's determined both by our social networks and our neighborhood's have significant and often surprising effects on our health. This class will examine these social determinants of health from a sociological perspective, focusing on the mechanisms by which social networks, neighborhoods, and global systems of inequalities "get under our skin" and produce tangible differences in health outcomes.

This is not a course on medicine, medical diagnosis, or pathophyisiology. Rather, this course will allow students to think critically about social structures and their direct and indirect effects on individual health. This course will focus on the basic concepts social scientists use to describe social inequalities in health, giving examples of research showing persistent social gradients in health outcomes.

The course will begin with an overview of the theoretical framework employed in social determinants of health research, including a discussion on the definition of health, social capital, allostatic load, and inequality. From there, each module will focus on one expression of social context on health at three different levels: macro-structural inequalities at the global, national, and regional levels, resulting in health inequalities between and within countries; at the level of the urban neighborhood, resulting in disparities between different parts of the same city; and at the individual level, as a function of individual's connections within social networks.

Throughout the course, substantive concepts will be related to both the theoretical concepts introduced at the start of the course and the empirical methods that social scientists used to study these relationships. In particular, this course will provide a basic introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a tool which allows researchers to study the spatial relationships between disadvantage and health. Students will be taught the basics of ArcGIS, the industry standard software for geographic research, and will use this tool to present their own original research on health disparities.

-Describe mechanisms by which health may be impacted by the social environment at global, local, and individual levels
-Describe specific examples in which the social environment impacts health, citing the mechanisms and concepts that social scientists use to study these relationships.
-Create maps showing the spatial relationships between disadvantage and health at the city level.

Some basic experience with spreadsheets (Excel) and comfort with computers will be necessary for the GIS component.