Despite the advances of modern epidemiology, the field remains limited in its ability to explain why certain outcomes occur and to generate the kind of findings that can be translated into programmes or policies to improve health. Creating community partnerships such that community representatives participate in the definition of the research problem, interpretation of the data, and application of the findings may help address these concerns. Community based participatory research (CBPR) is a framework epidemiologists can apply to their studies to gain a better understanding of the social context in which disease outcomes occur, while involving community partners in the research process, and insuring that action is part of the research process itself. The utility of CBPR principles has been particularly well demonstrated by environmental epidemiologists who have employed this approach in data gathering on exposure assessment and advancing environmental justice. This article provides examples of how popular epidemiology applies many of CBPR's key principles. At this critical juncture in its history, epidemiology may benefit from further incorporating CBPR, increasing the field's ability to study and understand complex community health problems, insure the policy and practice relevance of findings, and assist in using those findings to help promote structural changes that can improve health and prevent disease.