Descriptive Epidemiology in Nursing Science

The incidence and prevalence of such diseases as cancer, hypertension, and diabetes (as well as the peculiarities of other illnesses) have been properly examined in the USA. Researchers and practitioners have extensive data on the major symptoms, risk factors, threats, vulnerable populations, and other meaningful details associated with various disorders (Szklo & Nieto, 2014). Descriptive epidemiology equips healthcare professionals with the methodology to obtain this information. On the basis of these data, public health intervention programs are developed, implemented, and assessed. The present paper examines the peculiarities of the modern descriptive epidemiology and the role it plays in the contemporary nursing science.

Descriptive Epidemiology in Nursing Science

Descriptive epidemiology plays an important role in nursing science as it is instrumental in identifying emerging health issues and their characteristics. Furthermore, it provides the descriptions of the primary determinants of disorders health risks and threats, health-related behaviors in diverse populations (Naito, 2014). This nursing discipline also serves as an effective tool to assess the efficacy of the existing interventions. Researchers and practitioners often focus on at-risk groups to identify the most urgent issues to address. It is possible to state that descriptive epidemiology is the background for the development of effective interventions aimed at improving public health. Nursing science relies on the information obtained through the analysis of demographic data, healthcare reports, and records, as well as other health-related facts. An important peculiarity of the discipline is the way the results of the research are presented. Graphs, diagrams, and tables help in making evidence-based decisions.

Epidemiology Components

In short, the major epidemiology components are time, place, and people. Descriptive epidemiology focuses on the emergence and spread of diseases in certain places and during particular periods of time targeting different groups of people (Naito, 2014). Each of these elements is interrelated with the other two. Time is an essential dimension as illnesses may emerge or spread at certain periods (seasonal health issues), which enables people to develop effective preventive measures (Szklo & Nieto, 2014). Although some disorders may occur at any time, it is still important to take into account this dimension. Researchers often create graphs that display dates and periods as well as the number of cases.

The place is another aspect to analyze as some disorders may prevail in certain areas due to environmental peculiarities. Researchers identify zones where a disease emerges and spreads (Szklo & Nieto, 2014). These areas can be as small as a community and as large as a country or even a continent. The analysis of the characteristics of these places and diseases ensures the development of proper treatment plans, public health programs, and prevention measures. Maps often serve as the common visuals when it comes to this dimension.

The third component to be mentioned is people. Researchers pay attention to individuals’ age, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, health-related behavior, education, and other details that can help in understanding the reasons for the development of certain disorders (Szklo & Nieto, 2014). Health records provide extensive data concerning past diagnoses, treatment, prevention strategies that might have been employed. Family history is another aspect to consider when analyzing people’s health. Clearly, the analysis of all the three components enables researchers to obtain the full picture of certain health-related events. Such multifaceted data can also help in the development of efficient treatment plans and prevention programs that can be used to address possible public health threats and issues.

The Application of Descriptive Epidemiology in Public Health Nursing

It is possible to consider an example of the way descriptive epidemiology is applied in public health nursing today. As mentioned above, cancer is one of the major health concerns. It was estimated that in 2012, 1,676,633 women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and the mortality rate is rather high as the disorder was the cause of death in almost a third of these cases (Youlden, Cramb, Yip, & Baade, 2014). Researchers have obtained valuable data that provide insights into the incidence of this disease and certain factors affecting its prevalence. This information has been employed to come up with interventions and prevention programs that have been widely used across the country or even worldwide. The three dimensions have been applied to understand the peculiarities of the illness.

The people component has acquired most attention regarding the analysis of breast cancer. Ethnicity and age tend to be the primary factors that have proved to affect the development of this disorder and mortality associated with it (DeSantis et al., 2016). Socioeconomic status is another influential determinant of breast cancer. Education and health-related behavior are also taken into account. As for the geographic component of the analysis, researchers have concentrated on the dyad of developed and developing countries. At present, the prevalence of breast cancer is apparent in developing countries as over a half of the cases have occurred in Asian countries (Youlden et al., 2014). Such aspects as the accessibility of high-quality healthcare services are considered within this dimension. The availability of cancer prevention programs in developed countries, as well as the introduction of effective public health campaigns, has contributed to the positive outcome and reduction of the incidence of the disease in question.

The component of time can be rather illustrative when applied to the research concerning breast cancer. Although the disorder does not emerge regularly, time is an important dimension to analyze. It has been found that the prevalence of cancer in different regions has been changing. For instance, in the 1990s, the majority of cases (almost 60%), females who lived in developed countries were diagnosed with this type of cancer (Youlden et al., 2014). In the 2010s, the pattern changed since, in 2012, over 56% of the cases were reported in developing countries. This shift can point to the effectiveness of the measures undertaken in developed countries or the positive influence of certain factors. Developing countries can adopt some of the most cost-effective strategies to address the health issue that is becoming rather alarming.


On balance, it is possible to note that descriptive epidemiology is instrumental in identifying the most urgent health-related issues and developing effective methods and strategies to handle them. This discipline unveils the peculiarities of disorders in terms of such dimensions as time, place, and people. These components help researchers and practitioners to use the most effective interventions for each group of people at a particular period in a specific place. Importantly, the data is presented in different forms and can be used by various stakeholders (including healthcare professionals, policymakers, activists, and patients). The development of the discipline also calls for the creation of accessible databases that can be utilized for the analysis in different settings.


DeSantis, C. E., Fedewa, S. A., Goding Sauer, A., Kramer, J. L., Smith, R. A., & Jemal, A. (2016). Breast cancer statistics, 2015: Convergence of incidence rates between black and white women. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 66(1), 31-42.

Naito, M. (2014). Utilization and application of public health data in descriptive epidemiology. Journal of Epidemiology, 24(6), 435-436.

Szklo, M., & Nieto, F. J. (2014). Epidemiology: Beyond the basics (3rd ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Youlden, D. R., Cramb, S. M., Yip, C. H., & Baade, P. D. (2014). Incidence and mortality of female breast cancer in the Asia-Pacific region. Cancer Biology & Medicine, 11(2), 101-115.