On the relationship between individual and population health

Med Health Care Philos. 2009 Aug;12(3):235-44. doi: 10.1007/s11019-008-9173-8. Epub 2008 Dec 24.


The relationship between individual and population health is partially built on the broad dichotomization of medicine into clinical medicine and public health. Potential drawbacks of current views include seeing both individual and population health as absolute and independent concepts. I will argue that the relationship between individual and population health is largely relative and dynamic. Their interrelated dynamism derives from a causally defined life course perspective on health determination starting from an individual's conception through growth, development and participation in the collective till death, all seen within the context of an adaptive society. Indeed, it will become clear that neither individual nor population health is identifiable or even definable without informative contextualization within the other. For instance, a person's health cannot be seen in isolation but must be placed in the rich contextual web such as the socioeconomic circumstances and other health determinants of where they were conceived, born, bred, and how they shaped and were shaped by their environment and communities, especially given the prevailing population health exposures over their lifetime. We cannot discuss the "what" and "how much" of individual and population health until we know the cumulative trajectories of both, using appropriate causal language.

MeSH terms

  • Causality
  • Clinical Medicine*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Philosophy, Medical*
  • Public Health*
  • Sociology, Medical*