The Epidemiologic Transition

Although demography continues to be the most prominent discipline concerned with population dynamics, involvement of other disciplines is highly desirable. The case for a multidisciplinary approach to population theory has been aptly stated by Kurt Mayer: “Any meaningful interpretation of the cause and effects of population changes must … extend beyond formal statistical measurement of the components of change, i.e. fertility, mortality and migration, and draw on the theoretical framework of several other disciplines for assistance (Mayer 1962).” In noting that the “analysis of the causal determinants and consequences of population change forms the subject matter of population theory,” Mayer inferentially acknowledges the epidemiologic character of population phenomena, for as its etymology indicates, (epi, upon; demos, people;logos, study), epidemiology is the study of what “comes upon” groups of people. More specifically, epidemiology is concerned with the distribution of disease and death, and with their determinants and consequences in population groups. Inasmuch as patterns of health and disease are integral components of population change, epidemiology’s reservoir of knowledge about these patterns and their determinants in population groups serves not only as a basis for prediction of population change but also as a source of hypotheses that can be further tested to correct, refine and build population theory. Furthermore, many epidemiologic techniques that have heretofore been limited to the examination of health and disease patterns can be profitably applied as well to the exploration of other mass phenomena, such as fertility control.

A theory of epidemiologic transition, sensitive to the formulations of population theorists who have stressed the demographic, biologic, sociologic, economic and psychologic ramifications of transitional processes, was conceived by this author less than four years ago. Recognition of the limitations of demographic transition theory and of the need for comprehensive approaches to population dynamics stimulated the development of this theory (Van Nort and Karon 1955; Micklin 1968).


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