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Demography and public health 

Demography and public health
Chapter:
Demography and public health
Author(s):

Emily Grundy

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199218707.003.0044
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date: 06 December 2019

The health and healthcare needs of a population cannot be measured or met without knowledge of its size and characteristics. Demography is concerned with this essential ‘numbering of the people’ and with understanding population dynamics—how populations change in response to the interplay between fertility, mortality, and migration. This understanding is a pre-requisite for making the forecasts about future population size and structure which should underpin healthcare planning. Analysis of both the present and the future necessitates a review of the past. The number of very old people in a population, for example, depends on the number of births eight or nine decades earlier and risks of death at successive ages throughout the intervening period. The proportion of very old people depends partly on this numerator but more importantly on the denominator (the size of the population as a whole)—itself a function of reproductive behaviour, mortality, and net migration from yesterday back through time. The number of births in a population depends not just on current patterns of family building, but also on the number of women ‘at risk’ of reproduction—itself a function of past trends in fertility and mortality. Similarly, the number of deaths (and their distribution by cause) is strongly influenced by age structure.

Formal or pure demography is largely concerned with answering questions about how populations change and how these changes can be measured. The broader field of population studies embraces the questions of why these changes occur, and with what consequences.

This chapter presents information on demographic methods and data sources, in the context of their application to health and population issues, together with information on demographic trends and their implications and the major theories about demographic change in order to elucidate the complex inter-relationship between population change and human health.

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