Are energy drinks dangerous? Should HIV screening be mandated for college entry? How likely is gun violence on a university campus? Every day, we are presented with new public health considerations and study findings. However, it can be challenging to understand the significance of public health findings presented by the media without a basic understanding of public health methods and its scientific foundation. Through the in-depth exploration of three health topics, students will gain insight into the public health approach to better understand its purpose and methodology.

This topically oriented class will introduce students to the basic principles of epidemiology, the science of public health, to allow them to be better consumers of public health findings presented in the popular media. We will focus primarily on three health problems to serve as examples of major health problems confronting the United States. We will study these problems in depth in order to gain an understanding of disease prevention, identification, and transmission. This semester, we will focus on one infectious disease (HIV) and two health behaviors (substance use and violence). We will read popular press articles on these health topics, as well as nonfiction case studies.

Course enrichments include guest lectures and field trips, such as a visit to Sexually Transmitted Infection Community Coalition of Metropolitan Washington, DC (STICC) or Metro Teen AIDs Real Talk Testing Van, as well as one or more guest lecturers from leading experts and community health workers in substance use, HIV, and violence prevention.

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to

• critically examine public health study findings presented in the media

• gain foundational knowledge of epidemiology to allow them to be better consumers of public health study findings

• Enhance teamwork, critical thinking, writing, and oral presentation skills

Assignments include:

• weekly reactions papers, student presentations on health topics in the news, in-class activities, and a final research paper

Readings include:

Excerpts from Saving Lives a Million at a Time; The Hot Zone by Richard Preston; popular press coverage of major health topics; nonfiction case studies of public health problems; and government publications on substance use, HIV, and violence.