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Epi Seminar Series

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Monday, March 17, 2014
10:00am -11:00am
Health Sciences T-639

"Epidemiologic theory, embodied history, & health inequities: critical challenges"


Nancy Krieger, PhD

Professor of Social Epidemiology

Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Harvard School of Public Health


Taking theory and history seriously – conceptually and analytically – is critical for analyzing causes of and solutions to health inequities. In this presentation, I consider the utility of explicitly incorporating epidemiologic theory and history into our empirical research, drawing on my work to develop the ecosocial theory of disease distribution, which focuses on how we literally embody, biologically, our societal and ecologic context – across both levels and historical generations – thereby creating population patterns of health, disease, and health inequities. Empirical examples focus on links between racism, socioeconomic position, and population health in relation to: (1) racial discrimination and hypertension, (2) exposure to black carbon, (3) infant death and the abolition of Jim Crow, and (4) the pace of change of health inequities across generations and within short spans of time, as pertaining to body mass index, age at menarche, and the breast cancer estrogen receptor. Together, these examples suggest our science will likely be better served by conceptualizing disease and its biomarkers, along with changing magnitudes of health inequities, as expressions of not innate biology but instead emergent embodied phenotypes, i.e., embodied history.


About the Speaker:

Nancy Krieger is Professor of Social Epidemiology, in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health and Director of the HSPH Interdisciplinary Concentration on Women, Gender, and Health. She received her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1989. Dr. Krieger is an internationally recognized social epidemiologist, with a background in biochemistry, philosophy of science, and the history of public health, combined with over 30 years of activism linking issues involving social justice, science, and health. In 2004, she became an ISI highly cited scientist, a group comprising “less than one-half of one percent of all publishing researchers,” and in 2013 was the recipient of the Wade Hampton Frost Award from the Epidemiology Section of the American Public Health Association. Informed by an analysis of the history and politics of epidemiology and public health, Dr. Krieger’s work addresses three topics: (1) conceptual frameworks to understand, analyze, and improve population health and reduce health inequities, including the ecosocial theory of disease distribution she has been developing since 1994 and its focus on embodiment; (2) etiologic research on societal determinants of population health and health inequities; and (3) methodologic research on improving monitoring of health inequities. Examples of her epidemiologic research include: studies on racism, discrimination and health, including blood pressure and birth outcomes; socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in breast cancer; and research on appropriate measures of social class (individual, household, and neighborhood), both for population-based monitoring of social inequalities in health and studying women, gender, class, and health. She is author of Epidemiology and The People’s Health: Theory and Context (Oxford University Press, 2011), editor of Embodying Inequality: Epidemiologic Perspectives (Baywood Press, 2004) and co-editor, with Glen Margo, of AIDS: The Politics of Survival (Baywood Publishers, 1994), and, with Elizabeth Fee, of Women’s Health, Politics, and Power: Essays on Sex/Gender, Medicine, and Public Health (Baywood Publishers, 1994). In 1994 she co-founded, and still chairs, the Spirit of 1848 Caucus of the American Public Health Association, which is concerned with the links between social justice and public health.

Suggested Readings (pdf)


Updated on March 17, 2014