21 Jun

Introducing students to contemporary health studies

Posted By Politybooks

louisewarwickboothAs a course leader of an undergraduate degree in health studies, I was often asked by students if I could recommend a really good book that would cover the key things that they needed to know when they were starting their 3 year degree programme. I wasn’t able to make such a recommendation at that time. Yes there are some books that touch upon relevant material, but many did not entirely cover the curriculum that I was delivering, and many were written in styles that I found unenticing hence my reluctance to provide a single recommendation.

Yes, light bulb moment: there was a need for a new book in this area! This book is an attempt to create a resource that is useful but it is also about more. In writing Contemporary Health Studies, my colleagues and I felt able to demonstrate the interesting aspects of the field and to write in a way that was thought-provoking and engaging for our student readers. We have also tried to create a book that enables readers to begin to understand the complexities of health and the many factors which influence it, in a critical way.

The book is a detailed introduction to health studies, a large, multidisciplinary field. It is about health and health determinants, which feature constantly in media reports and are regularly scrutinised by governments, academics and students alike. However, this mass of attention is not always increasing our understanding of what determines health, either good or bad.

In developing our ideas about the book through many enjoyable conversations, we envisaged three parts that would help us to structure the large amount of material that informs the field of health studies.

We begin by exploring understandings of health in part 1. We absolutely had to begin with a chapter about defining health; to study health one has to understand how it is conceptualised and understood in many different ways.

Then we move onto the contemporary threats to health; there are many challenges to health that exist today and these have also evolved and changed in tandem with societal developments. Have you ever considered how these threats are conceptualised and defined? Chapter 2 examines such processes. Given too that health is affected by many determinants, we also included threats to health in this chapter that perhaps are less obvious, such as crime.

This broad thinking about health is a key aim of the book and this should be evident to readers throughout the chapters. The final chapter in this section is about how we investigate health, exploring research methods and thinking particularly about developing a research project for final year undergraduates.

Feedback from students who I teach research methods to about this chapter has been positive; they found it simple and easy to understand which is how we wanted it to be – so much research methods writing is difficult to engage with and, as this chapter shows, it doesn’t need to be.

The next part of the book looks at how different disciplines contribute to our understanding of health. It is not a panacea – these are simply the disciplines that we feel contribute the most to our understanding, and that we feel are useful to draw upon. So, we wrote about sociology (chapter 4), anthropology (chapter 5), psychology (chapter 6) and health promotion (chapter 7). Each of these chapters gives an insight into the discipline and how it helps us in understanding health.

Taken together in this second part of the book, these chapters again show that health is influenced by many aspects of the social world such as society, culture, our own psychology and how health is promoted.

The final part of the book uses the Dahlgren and Whitehead determinants rainbow model to provide a framework for the analysis of health influences.

Have you thought about how your own characteristics influence your health? If not then read chapter 8.

How about the community that you live in and the social networks that you are connected to? These also act as health determinants in a number of ways. Chapter 9 explores these in depth.

Chapter 10 then moves on to look at how the physical environment affects our health; things that perhaps we take for granted in many high-income countries such as sanitation, water, housing and education. Health as a basic human right needs all of these environmental influences to be present to an adequate standard. This can be influenced by social policy, which affects all aspects of the social world in which we live including our health.

Chapter 11 explores the policy environment and its relationship with health.

Chapter 12 deviates somewhat from the Dahlgren and Whitehead model because it examines the global context in which health is influenced and located; an area not included in the model. However, it is an area that warrants attention as global forces are important in shaping health outcomes and the impact of globalization is still much debated.

We end the book in chapter 13 with critical evaluation of the Dahlgren and Whitehead model and more importantly 3 case studies that examine the determinants of health, differential analyses of the problem from a variety of schools of thought, and strategies for action. This is an important chapter because many books are good at highlighting health problems but then fail to analyse strategies for action and are thus not useful for practitioners.

Throughout the writing process we spend much time discussing the social model of health, which underpins much of what we have written here. We also consider how we can add to understandings of health and hope that this book will engage readers from a range of areas in helping us to address this task.

Louise Warwick-Booth is course leader of health studies at Leeds Metropolitan University.