Ecological Approaches

Monica L. Wendel and Kenneth R. McLeroy

in Public Health

ISBN: 9780199756797
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
Ecological Approaches


Social ecology provides a framework for understanding how individuals and their social environments mutually affect each other across the lifespan. Drawing from the ideas of Kurt Lewin’s A Dynamic Theory of Personality: Selected Papers (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1935), which conceptualized this relationship as an equation that yielded behavior, Urie Bronfenbrenner’s The Ecology of Human Development (Bronfenbrenner 1979, cited under History) extended the social ecological perspective to account for the complexity of individuals developing within embedded systems. Bronfenbrenner specified micro-, meso-, exo-, and macro- subsystems, which constitute the settings and life space within which an individual develops. In this model, each of the subsystems influences the individual and the other subsystems. Moreover, Bronfenbrenner viewed the individual as moving through time and being influenced by his or her developmental and life course experiences (ontogenic development). McLeroy, et al. 1988 (cited under History), which appeared in Health Education Quarterly as “An Ecological Perspective on Health Promotion Programs,” further defined the social ecological model for health promotion to depict interrelated systems at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, community, and policy levels, illustrated as concentric circles. The authors subsequently add other levels of analysis, including the physical environment and culture. The social ecological model provides a framework for understanding the factors that produce and maintain health and health-related issues, allowing identification of promising points of intervention and understanding how social problems are produced and sustained within and across the various subsystems. However, the model has also yielded a growing acknowledgment of the complexity of these systems, highlighting the need for more sophisticated intervention and research methods. Social ecological concepts are now widely used within the field of public health and are included in: (1) core competencies for public health developed by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health that serve as the basis for the public health certification examination; (2) a framework for several of the leading volumes on theory and practice in the field; (3) curricular frameworks for a number of the schools and programs for public health; and (4) other, related frameworks, such as the model proposed for the National Institutes of Health population disparities centers.

Article.  7967 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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