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What matters, when, for whom? three questions to guide population health scholarship
  1. Sandro Galea1,
  2. Katherine M Keyes2
  1. 1Dean’s Office, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Sandro Galea, Dean’s Office, Boston University, Boston, MA 02118, USA; sgalea{at}bu.edu

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We are at an inflection point in the history of public health scholarship. The past decade has seen a steady increase in the adoption of population health as a conceptual lens, emerging as the science that underlies the practice of public health.1 Attending this increase in interest have been books2 and papers3 that aspire to create frameworks that guide the study of population health science. We consider this all positive, seeing the rise of population health science as freeing, allowing the evolution of a scholarship of population health that can engage with ideas, unencumbered by the pragmatic needs of public health practice.

As might be expected, however, this evolution also occasions challenges. The growth of scholarship in population health may diverge too widely from the practice of public health. Freedom from pragmatic exigency runs the risk of leading to scholarship that is unmoored from the needs of the public health enterprise. In this essay, we aim to distil some of our own scholarship around population health science,4–6 informed by others who have come before us7 or are currently writing in the field,8 to highlight three core questions that we think can help focus contemporary population health science. We argue that the three questions emerge from an understanding of the fundamentals of population health but can, and perhaps should, serve as guideposts for emerging scholarship. We illustrate the import of each of these questions with examples of relevance to injury prevention, aiming both to concretise our thoughts and to have these questions challenge and provoke scholarship and action in this area.

What matters?

We suggest that the first question of fundamental interest to anyone engaged in population health is deceptively simple: what matters? We have previously commented on what might matter most,5 but here we take …

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