George A. Kaplan, Ph.D.

Thomas Francis Collegiate Emeritus Professor of Public Health
Founder, Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health
University of Michigan School of Public Health
Email: Discipline: Public Health, Social Epidemiology Expertise: Disparities, Population Health

Investigator Award
Understanding the Complex Causes of Population Health
Award Year: 2006 What really determines whether a population is healthy? Although our knowledge about biological processes, environmental conditions, and socioeconomic factors has expanded enormously, we are not yet able to put the pieces of the health puzzle together. For example, research on the rapid rise of obesity reveals a host of factors operating at many levels: our parents' weight, our income, the size of the food portions we eat, the availability of fresh produce in our neighborhoods, the advertisements we are exposed to, and so on. But what the research doesn't tell us is how much each factor contributes to the problem and which policy levers might work best to reverse specific diseases. Co-investigators at the University of Michigan, Sandro Galea, M.D., Dr.P.H., M.P.H. and George A. Kaplan, Ph.D. believe that new methods are needed to better understand population health and to produce scientific information that can be useful to policymakers. Their innovative project, Understanding the Complex Causes of Population Health, attempts to break new ground by using the theories and tools of complex systems to model how factors and conditions interact at many levels to produce health and disease.


George A. Kaplan is the Thomas Francis Collegiate Emeritus Professor of Public Health in the School of Public Health, and founder of the Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health, all at the University of Michigan. He is also a docent at the University of Kuopio in Finland, and was an associate in the Population Health Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research until its end. Dr. Kaplan also directed the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program at the University of Michigan. Among his recent honors are membership in the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Social Insurance, and election to the Presidency of the Society for Epidemiologic Research. Professor Kaplan is also the first public health scientist to be invited to address the Nobel Forum at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Professor Kaplan is a social epidemiologist who has published over 200 papers on the role of behavioral, social, psychological, and socioeconomic factors in health and health inequalities. A major theme in his work is the role of "upstream" and "downstream" factors in maintaining health, delaying disease, and improving function, with an emphasis on the linking of social and biological determinants. Recent studies by Kaplan and his colleagues have detailed the cumulative cost of socioeconomic disadvantage on health and functional outcomes in the elderly, the role of socioeconomic status and economic equity on the overall health of populations, the impact of neighborhood and community factors on health, the impact of life-course trajectories on a variety of health outcomes in adulthood, and the role of economic and social policy on health.