Review of the theoretical frameworks for the study of child development within public health and epidemiology

J Epidemiol Community Health. 2010 May;64(5):388-93. doi: 10.1136/jech.2008.084046. Epub 2009 Aug 19.


Background: Care for child development has gained international momentum in research and community-based programming. It encompasses various domains including cognitive, psychomotor, emotional, behavioural and social development, and a multitude of factors that have the potential to influence its trajectories. However, the multidisciplinary nature of child development initiatives is marred by a lack of unified perspectives across disciplines, especially basic conceptual understanding generated in the fields of education and psychology, which are not effectively exploited in public health programmes and epidemiological research.

Methods: The article suggests a four-point evaluation criteria to child development theories based on the ability to communicate in (1) Cross-disciplines, (2) an Overarching facility to address various developmental domains, (3) the capacity to link child development with Lifelong developmental potentials and, most importantly, (4) Epidemiological capability to provide supporting empirical evidence for community-based public health interventions (COLE criteria).

Results: Key child development theories have been reviewed by broadly grouping them into three categories on the basis of content and approach, such as descriptive theories, psychological construct-based theories, and context-based theories. The strengths and challenges of these theories have been evaluated on the basis of COLE criteria.

Conclusion: Although most of these theories can contribute at different levels in child development initiatives, context-based theories have been particularly proposed to practitioners, researchers and policy makers for community-based programming, principally for its potential to address issues of social inequality, poverty and childcare practices, which are at the core of public health initiatives, and provide multiple level of opportunities to intervene.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development* / classification
  • Community Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Process Assessment, Health Care / methods
  • Public Health Practice*