These are the big ideas of a discipline that have lasting value outside the classroom. The table below shows another version of epidemiology components and the enduring understandings for each one.
1. The causes of health and disease are discoverable by systematically and rigorously identifying their patterns in populations, formulating causal hypotheses, and testing those hypotheses by making group comparisons. These methods lie at the core of the science of epidemiology. Epidemiology is the basic science of public health, a discipline responsible for improving health and preventing disease in populations.
2. Health and disease are not distributed haphazardly in a population. There are patterns to their occurrence. These patterns can be identified through the surveillance of populations.
3. Analysis of these patterns can help formulate hypotheses about the possible causes of health and disease.
4. A hypothesis can be tested by comparing the frequency of disease in selected groups of people with and without an exposure to determine if the exposure and the disease are associated.
5. When an exposure is hypothesized to have a beneficial effect, studies can be designed in which a group of people is intentionally exposed to the hypothesized cause and compared to a group that is not exposed.
6. When an exposure is hypothesized to have a detrimental effect, it is not ethical to intentionally expose a group of people. In these circumstances, studies can be designed that observe groups of free-living people with and without the exposure.
7. One possible explanation for finding an association is that the exposure causes the outcome. Because studies are complicated by factors not controlled by the observer, other explanations also must be considered, including confounding, chance and bias.
8. While a given exposure may be necessary to cause an outcome, the presence of a single factor is seldom sufficient. Most outcomes are caused by a combination of exposures that may include genetic make-up, behaviors, social, economic, and cultural factors and the environment.
9. Judgments about whether an exposure causes a disease are developed by examining a body of epidemiologic evidence as well as evidence from other scientific disciplines.
10. Individual and societal health-related decisions to improve health and prevent disease are based on more than scientific evidence. Social, economic, ethical, environmental, cultural, and political factors may also be considered in decision-making.
11. The effectiveness of a health-related strategy can be evaluated by comparing the frequency of disease in selected groups of people who were and were not exposed to the strategy. Costs, trade-offs, and alternative solutions must also be considered in evaluating the strategy.
12. An understanding of non-health related phenomena can be developed through epidemiologic thinking, by identifying their patterns in populations, formulating causal hypotheses, and testing those hypotheses by making group comparisons.
From: M Kaelin, W Huebner, R. Cordell, B. Szklarczuk. (2008) Professional Development for Prospective Epidemiology Teachers in Grades 6-16: What Will We Do? Public Health Reports; 123 (Suppl 2):5-11. )