New text book shows the way to understanding health risks and prevention

The third edition of a popular medical textbook, which has been frequently lauded for its practical approach and wide coverage of statistical and epidemiological methods as applied in medicine, has been published.

Updated and expanded and assuming only a basic statistical background, the new edition of Epidemiology: Study Design and Data Analysis demonstrates how statistical principles and techniques can help solve epidemiological problems.

Author Professor Mark Woodward, of The George Institute and The University of Sydney, is recognised internationally as a leading researcher in his field, with salaried or honorary professorships in seven universities across six countries.

Epidemiology, the study of the distribution and determinants of disease in human populations, is in everyday use by national and regional health departments, clinicians and family doctors, said Professor Woodward.

 “With the increasing public accessibility of electronic health data, epidemiological methods are also valuable to the general citizen who wants to understand her or his health risks and the likely success of potential preventive strategies.”

Professor Woodward cites the example of breast cancer.

“This is one of the leading causes of death amongst women in industrialized countries, but epidemiological studies have shown it to be much more common in northern latitudes than in other parts of the world.”

This geographical differential, however, seems to have been decreasing: recent studies in the USA suggest a decline in deaths due to breast cancer, while studies in Japan suggest an increase.

“In general, breast cancer rates have been found to increase with age and to be highest in those women of high socio-economic status who have never married.”

Professor Woodward says the finding that those women who have never married are more prone to breast cancer is the kind that leads to further investigation.

“Perhaps the causal factors are features of reproduction, such as a lack of some type of protection that would be conferred by breast feeding.”

In general, he says, studies tend to look at a variety of factors that may influence a particular disease prevalence, including exposure to atmospheric pollutants, lifestyle characteristics (such as smoking and diet) and biological characteristics (such as cholesterol and blood pressure).