Rose's population strategy of prevention need not increase social inequalities in health

Int J Epidemiol. 2010 Apr;39(2):372-7. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyp315. Epub 2009 Nov 3.


Geoffrey Rose's 1985 paper, Sick individuals and sick populations, continues to spark debate and discussion. Since this original publication, there have been two notable challenges to Rose's population strategy of prevention. First, identification of high-risk individuals has improved considerably in accuracy, which some believe obviates the need for population-wide prevention strategies. Secondly, and more recently, it has been suggested that population strategies of prevention may inadvertently worsen social inequalities in health. We argue that population prevention will not necessarily worsen social inequalities in health, and the likelihood of it doing so will depend on whether the prevention strategy is more structural (targets conditions in which behaviours occur) or agentic (targets behaviour change among individuals) in nature. Also, there are potential drawbacks of approaches that focus on discrete populations (i.e. high risk or vulnerable) that need to be considered when selecting a strategy. Although Rose's ideas need to be continually scrutinized, his population strategy of prevention still holds considerable merit for improving population health and narrowing social inequalities in health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • National Health Programs
  • Primary Prevention*
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Social Marketing
  • Socioeconomic Factors