Scale in public health and service provision explored

The latest in the Green Templeton Social Sciences Seminar Series was held on Thursday 7 November, with  Research Fellows Dr Janey Messina and Dr Ben Chrisinger speaking on ‘Scale in public health studies and its implications for public policy.’

The founder of the series, Green Templeton’s Alex Midlen (MSc Nature, Society and Environmental Governance), gives an overview of the seminar:

Geographic scale is a crucial concern when it comes to public health and health service provision. Issues such as environmental change, demographic composition, and access to health care all differ according to geographic context.

Dr Janey Messina

For example, global patterns in infectious diseases are linked to population movement and diffusion of pathogens and vectors, as we heard from Dr Janey Messina, School of Geography and Environment. These processes are in turn affected by regional and local contexts such as socio-economic status, housing conditions, and conflict.

Dr Ben Chrisinger, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, approached the issue of scale with regard to associations between food access and health outcomes in urban neighbourhoods, which often show that areas with poor access (“food deserts”) have worse diet-related health. Yet evaluations of new retailers opening in food deserts in the US reveal a more complicated story, with few improvements to health having been identified.

Dr Ben Chrisinger

Three points of common ground emerged from the discussion amongst the speakers and audience:

  • First was the importance to be clear about the research design and limitations – is it explaining observations of past or present phenomena or predicting future outcomes?
  • The second point concerned the spatial bounding of the research exercise, and the so-called ‘ecological fallacy’, which relates to the drawing of inferences from data which misrepresent the real situation. How sample populations for research are chosen (i.e what boundaries are chosen in the spatial context) can have a big influence on results due to underlying demographic characteristics or spatial heterogeneity such as in landscapes or amongst city neighbourhoods.
  • The third concerned the communication of research findings to decision-makers. For Janey, working at a global scale a key challenge is to be able to relate her work to practical policy interventions that could be taken at smaller (eg national) scales. Ben’s key message in his work is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and so policy interventions need to be contextualised for specific localities.

Many thanks to all those who joined us at the latest in this engaging series.

About the speakers:
Dr Janey Messina is a Research Fellow of Green Templeton College and Associate Professor in Quantitative Social Science Methods, School of Geography and Environment.

Dr Ben Chrisinger is a Research Fellow of Green Templeton College and Associate Professor of Evidence-Based Policy Evaluation, Department of Social Policy and Intervention.

About the series:

The Green Templeton Social Sciences Seminar Series is a Student Academic Project which aims to increase dialogue between the social science disciplines at Green Templeton College and beyond. The social sciences represent a diverse spectrum of disciplines ranging through population and demography, public health, anthropology, human geography, criminology and more.

For more information about the Green Templeton Social Sciences Seminar Series, please contact



Created: 29 November 2019