Modeling the cumulative effects of social exposures on health: moving beyond disease-specific models.

International journal of environmental research and public health

PubMedID: 23528813

White HL, O'Campo P, Moineddin R, Matheson FI. Modeling the cumulative effects of social exposures on health: moving beyond disease-specific models. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013;10(4):1186-201.
The traditional explanatory models used in epidemiology are "disease specific", identifying risk factors for specific health conditions. Yet social exposures lead to a generalized, cumulative health impact which may not be specific to one illness. Disease-specific models may therefore misestimate social factors' effects on health. Using data from the Canadian Community Health Survey and Canada 2001 Census we construct and compare "disease-specific" and "generalized health impact" (GHI) models to gauge the negative health effects of one social exposure: socioeconomic position (SEP). We use logistic and multinomial multilevel modeling with neighbourhood-level material deprivation, individual-level education and household income to compare and contrast the two approaches. In disease-specific models, the social determinants under study were each associated with the health conditions of interest. However, larger effect sizes were apparent when outcomes were modeled as compound health problems (0, 1, 2, or 3+ conditions) using the GHI approach. To more accurately estimate social exposures' impacts on population health, researchers should consider a GHI framework.