Course: Integrating Social and Behavioral Theory into Public Health: Foundations/Macro-Mezzo Levels

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Course Description

This is the first part of a two-course survey that introduces an ecologic perspective that can be used to map factors that shape the health of individuals and populations. The course is built around a model that attempts to integrate social and cognitive factors that contribute to health status and health-related behavior. Integrated with the theoretical presentation are examples of interventions. The first course focuses mostly on "macro" and "mezzo" level influences on health, including culture, socio-economic status, race, and the media. Included is a discussion of advocacy as method of creating change at a macro level. The second course focuses more on the "micro" level and introduces several classic health behavior theories before turning to health communication and health education. By the end of both courses, students will be able to apply a number of theories and ecological perspectives to thinking about health problems and behavior.

This course has been designed with an eye toward focused reading, personal engagement, and peer discussion.

  • Course topics have been selected to introduce salient aspects of issues rather than to provide comprehensive review. Students are expected to closely read "required" materials before each class and may supplement this reading with "suggested" materials as time allows.
  • This course emphasizes peer discussion and feedback as befitting graduate school and the rich, diverse backgrounds of students.  Emphasis is on "community of learners" versus "teacher as oracle," and students are expected to participate actively in class- and lab-based discussions.


Assignments for each session are listed on the Readings page.

Course Requirements

The course is organized around four types of interaction: introductory lectures, lectures focusing on interventions, lab exercises, and small-group discussion.  Lab sessions are devoted to applying theoretical models to personal behavior change efforts. More specifically, students will identify and work toward their own behavior change goal and will use course material to predict, assess, and document their experience (see Lab Manual). There is no fixed time for "lab" - as indicated in the syllabus, they are integrated into the main course schedule.

Successful completion of this course requires attention to:

  1. Reading. Students are expected to arrive to class prepared to engage in in-depth discussion of the required reading in terms of its findings, methodology, and theoretical underpinnings.
  2. Exams: these will be short-answer (some combination of short answers, short essays, multiple choice) lasting about 50 minutes.  Their purpose is to help students consolidate their knowledge of key concepts.  The mid-terms and second quarter final are in class, the first quarter final will be take-home.  It will have the form of a paper to read and then some short answer questions.  Exam content will closely follow the main summary points from each lecture.
  3. Individual lab report. In this individual assignment, students will reflect on their behavior change experience using theoretical perspectives presented in class.  Each lab has a short "report" to complete and hand in.  The final lab report for the each quarter will be a short essay that summarizes what was learned to that point about the strategies and difficulties involved in making a personal health behavior change. Details are in the lab manual, which has all of the labs for the whole semester. Please note that all of the labs involve some pre-lab preparation.
  4. Lab attendance and participation and group oral lab reports.
  5. Participation in small group discussions. Periodically throughout the course are small-group discussions based on a trigger article.  The articles have been chosen to provide a more in-depth look at a related topic covered in the course. 
  6. Class participation

Overall Grading Criteria

Course grades are based on the anchor that an average, competent performance responsive to an  assignment's directions is equivalent to a grade of B.  "A" work requires going beyond the lecture material and required reading to either involve supplemental material or to provide an analysis that is particularly thoughtful or detailed.  Not following assignment directions will result in reduction in grades.  This is not because we value conformity, but out of a sense of fairness to students who do try to answer within the parameters of what they are asked. 

Students are asked to adhere to the school's standards in terms of academic integrity.  This includes the appropriate use of properly formatted citations where necessary. Any generally accepted citation format is acceptable so long as you are complete.  In general, please don't use course lectures or slides as primary references; the use of sources such as Wikipedia are similarly discouraged, though they may be great ways of finding other sources/citations that are of higher quality.

Students for whom English is not a first language should consult the instructor if they feel that this will have an impact on their written work so that we can make an appropriate accommodation - be assured that we are sympathetic to this situation.  We do expect that typed materials will at least have been checked electronically for spelling, but there will be no penalty for grammar errors attributable to lack of language proficiency.

The main factors that will be used to evaluate written assignments (take home as well as in class) include:

  • Clarity/organization of ideas
  • Use of material from class or reading to explain and support ideas (properly cited as needed)
  • Richness of explanation/description - getting beyond a single explanation; in particular, the ability to compare and contrast views suggested by competing theories or perspectives