Social epidemiology is defined as “the branch of epidemiology that studies the social distribution and social determinants of health”, that is, “both specific features of, and pathways by which, societal conditions affect health”.
Social epidemiology may focus on individual-level measures, or on emergent social properties that have no correlation at the individual level; simultaneous analysis at both levels may be warranted. Use of such multilevel models (also known as hierarchical and mixed effects models) has grown in recent years, but as for all observational epidemiology, this approach suffers from theoretical and practical concerns.
Social epidemiology overlaps with fields in the social sciences, most notably medical anthropology, medical sociology, and medical geography. However, these latter fields often use health and disease in order to explain specifically social phenomenon (such as the growth of lay health advocacy movements), while social epidemiologists generally use social concepts in order to explain patterns of health in the population.