Course: Life Course Perspectives on Health

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Course Description

This course teaches students to frame public health issues using a life course perspective. It introduces and examines basic principles of human development across the life span, from the prenatal period through senescence, and the idea that health outcomes reflect developmental processes. The course provides a conceptual framework with which to understand the interrelationships among biological, psychological, and social factors and their influence on development and health. It also illustrates the application of this perspective to gain a critical understanding of public health issues.

Course Objectives

After taking this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe the components of a life course perspective on health, the advantages of using this approach in public health, and the challenges involved in doing so.
  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of the life course and human development and its relationship to individual health. In particular, students should be able to identify the meaning and measurement of "health" at particular life stages and articulate interrelationships among the biological, psychological, behavioral and social processes that shape health across the life course.
  • Develop a conceptual framework illustrating a life course approach to a specific outcome of concern to public health.


As assigned on Readings page.

Course Requirements

The course is organized into three substantive components.

Part One consists of the first two lectures and associated readings, which cover the elements of a multilevel, life course perspective on health and the process of constructing a conceptual framework. Obesity is used as an example for thinking about the multilevel factors that influence health and a life course approach. The first Live Talk is devoted to discussion of these foundational concepts.

Part Two consists of the remaining lectures and readings, which cover life course stages in sequence: the fetal period; infancy and early childhood; school age and adolescence; adulthood; and later life. The lecture for each stage provides an overview of the factors defining and shaping health in that life stage. The first set of readings for each stage complements the lecture. The second set of readings for each stage concerns a specific issue related to a life course perspective on health. These applications are intended to help students master the elements of a life course perspective and to allow students to consider specific issues in more depth. The remaining Live Talks cover the life stages in sequence.

Part Three consists of individual work developing a conceptual framework for a health outcome of the student�s choice. The outcome must be of relevance to public health, and students may not choose obesity as an outcome. Students must build their framework through a series of assignments in which they identify an outcome, draft a conceptual framework illustrating the determinants of this outcome, receive feedback on their draft from course faculty (and peers if they wish), finalize their framework, and write a short description of the framework.

Course Grades and Assignments

Commentaries and Live Talk Participation (15% of final grade).

Students are expected to listen to all lectures, to complete the required readings, to submit written commentaries on two of the five sets of Application readings, and to participate in or listen to all Live Talks. Each commentary will contribute 5% to the final grade; expectations for these commentaries are described in the document �Syllabus Distance Ed 2011� posted to the Online Library of the course web site under �General�. Live Talks are an important opportunity for students to interact with course Faculty and with each other about the issues covered in the course. Thus active participation in all Live Talks will contribute 5% to the final grade. However, we understand that some students may have conflicts with the Live Talks due to previously scheduled work commitments or will find it difficult to participate because they live in a distant time zone. These issues are inevitable in an online course; students with such issues, either regularly or occasionally, will not be penalized, provided they listen to the archived recording of the Live Talk.

Development of Conceptual Framework (55% of final grade).

Important details about these assignments are provided in the document "Conceptual Framework Assignments Distance Ed 2011" posted to the Online Library of the course web site under "General".

Topic for Conceptual Framework. Students are strongly encouraged to submit a short paragraph stating the health outcome for which they plan to develop a conceptual framework. The instructors will review this topic to be sure it meets the criteria for the assignment. Topics submitted after the deadline will not be reviewed.

Annotated Draft of Conceptual Framework (25%). Students will turn in annotated drafts of their conceptual frameworks along with their reference lists (bibliographies). The references that support each of the linkages in the conceptual graphic diagram must be indicated in the diagram.

Final Conceptual Framework with Text Description (30%). Students will turn in their final conceptual framework, accompanied by a text description of no more than 7 double-spaced pages (not including the reference list).

Final Exam (30%). The timed (90 minute) final exam will consist of multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions. It will cover all readings and lecture content of the course and test both knowledge and synthesis of concepts. Students are permitted to use all class materials and their own notes during the exam, which will be posted during the last week of class.