What matters most: quantifying an epidemiology of consequence

Ann Epidemiol. 2015 May;25(5):305-11. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2015.01.016. Epub 2015 Feb 7.


Risk factor epidemiology has contributed to substantial public health success. In this essay, we argue, however, that the focus on risk factor epidemiology has led epidemiology to ever increasing focus on the estimation of precise causal effects of exposures on an outcome at the expense of engagement with the broader causal architecture that produces population health. To conduct an epidemiology of consequence, a systematic effort is needed to engage our science in a critical reflection both about how well and under what conditions or assumptions we can assess causal effects and also on what will truly matter most for changing population health. Such an approach changes the priorities and values of the discipline and requires reorientation of how we structure the questions we ask and the methods we use, as well as how we teach epidemiology to our emerging scholars.

Keywords: Causal inference; Causes; Consequentialism; Consequentialist epidemiology; Interaction; Prevalence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Causality*
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Epidemiology / standards*
  • Epidemiology / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Responsibility