Course: Health Behavior Change at the Individual, Household and Community Levels

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Course Description

Provides students with conceptual tools to analyze health-related behaviors and the social, cultural and environmental context in which they occur. Applies concepts and theories drawn from medical anthropology, psychology and sociology to programmatic examples from Latin America, Africa and Asia concerning care-seeking, treatment of sick children, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, voluntary counseling and testing, sexual risk behaviors, intimate partner violence and other behavior change challenges in public health.

Course Objectives

Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  • describe conceptual tools drawn from medical anthropology pertinent to design of behavior change interventions including standards of efficacy, illness taxonomies, illness etiology, levels of causality, meanings of medication, public and private domains
  • identify and map the key components of common models of health behavior change at the individual level, and difficulties encountered when trying to apply them in different cultural contexts
  • describe psychological and anthropological perspectives on risk perceptions, and models of diffusion of innovations and influence of the mass media and apply to specific case studies
  • be familiar with basic terminology for describing households, kinship systems, communities and social capital and identify their significance for public health interventions
  • Discuss the basic components of the intervention modalities, including Social Marketing, Peer Education, Counseling, Harm Reduction, Diffusion of Innovation, and Community Mobilization
  • integrate the major theories covered in class with the various interventions modalities presented
  • apply appropriate combinations of theoretically based intervention modalities to case studies


See Readings page.

Course Requirements

Evaluation in this course is based on submission of three written assignments and completion of five online quizzes. There are no in-class examinations in this course.

The three written assignments are:

  • A response paper on concepts discussed during the first two discussion group sessions, and lectures during the first weeks of the course. (15%)
  • A draft of the final assignment, including a complete answer to Question #1, which will be graded, and an outline of Questions #2 and 3. (10%)
  • The final assignment (50%)

There are six quizzes that are completed online, each worth 4% of the final grade, for a total of 25%. Each quiz must be completed by 11:59 the night before each of the six discussion group sessions. The purpose of these quizzes is to ensure that students are adequately prepared to engage in the discussion. Students do not receive written feedback on the quizzes, but grades can be viewed in the online Gradebook. Each quiz includes:

  • 5 to 10 multiple-choice questions that are graded. The multiple-choice questions assess understanding of the readings assigned for the discussion group session. Grades for these questions are calculated automatically.
  • 1 or 2 one-paragraph written questions that are graded for satisfactory completion. These questions ask students to state their position on one of the issues under discussion.

Participation in discussion group sessions is critical. 5% will be deducted from a student's final grade for each absence from a discussion group session without prior notification of the teaching assistant.