Cause and Effect in Epidemiology


Determining the cause of a disease or the positive effect of a health activity is an important part of decision-making in public health. But how do we know if something actually does cause a disease or improve our health? Inferring causality is a step-by-step process requiring a variety of information. In this module, Dr. Victoria Holt discusses seven guidelines to use in determining whether a specific agent or activity causes a health outcome. She illustrates each guideline with a public health example.

After completing this module, you should be able to:

* Describe and distinguish between association and causality in epidemiology
* List and describe features of associations that support inferences of causality
* List the principal concerns in inferring causality

Public health professionals who want to increase their familiarity with the basic concepts of epidemiology. It is recommended that people are familiar with material presented in the following modules: What is Epidemiology in Public Health?, Study Types in Epidemiology, Measuring Risk in Epidemiology, and Data Interpretation for Public Health Professionals.

Competencies Addressed

This module provides an awareness-level training in the following epidemiology competency and subcompetencies developed by the University of Washington (UW Epidemiology Competencies).

Competency 5: Obtain, evaluate, and interpret public health information.

Subcompetency A: Interpret epidemiology measures.