The Social and Behavioral Sciences Department is devoted to exploring the complex connections between health and society via a multi-layered approach, looking equally at individual factors such as psychological traits and behaviors, to social factors such as socioeconomic status, income inequality, gender, and social capital, norms, systems, and policies. Our research aims to answer the question, “How can society ‘nudge’ people to make better health decisions and lead healthier lives?” by analyzing datasets from large cohort studies. Our goal is to draw on these findings to propose new health promotion activities and social reforms.
Research keywords: social epidemiology, health disparities, socioeconomic status, residential environment, gender
Main areas of research
Social inequality in health
Recent years have seen mounting evidence of health inequality. Clear disparities in many public health metrics attributable to socioeconomic status have become apparent in Japan, mirroring similar trends in Western countries. Our Department has contributed to research into how health outcomes can diverge across different social strata: these have included mental, behavioral, and self-rated health, cardiovascular disease and mortality risk, and functional disability. However, the mechanisms responsible for the observed disparities remain unclear. Thus, we are currently working to explicate them based on psychological and behavioral theories.
Health effects of residential environment
Health inequality cannot be fully explained by personal risk factors only. This insufficiency has motivated our Department to work to verify the potential effects of not only individual determinants of health, but also environmental determinants: specifically, characteristics of one’s community or area of residence. From longitudinal cohort studies, for example, we have demonstrated that district poverty levels are associated with total and disease-specific mortality rates, as well as the incidences of several diseases, among their residents. To identify the mechanisms responsible, we are analyzing how the community-level factors identified correlated with health behaviors, psychosocial traits, and biological risk factors. From a preventive medicine standpoint, this multi-level approach—ranging from local community factors to personal health—is a critical task in social medicine if we are to truly understand regional differences in health, and actually take steps to minimize them.
Health effects of gender
Gender division of labor—historically realized as men working outside the home while women manage home life—is an important source of gender differences in Japanese society. Our Department is engaged in socio-epidemiological research aimed at determining how this widespread social norm affects people’s health and health inequality, as well as verifying the mechanisms responsible. Specifically, our research looks to characterize gender differences in how household, occupational, and socioenvironmental factors influence people’s health, as well as how these factors interact with one another, and use that information to gain insight into the etiology of health inequality between men and women.
Our Department continues to examine how social factors affect individuals’ thoughts, feelings, behavior, and by extension their health. We would like to deepen our understanding of the complex interrelations between people and society, and provide more evidence-based solutions to reduce health inequality.