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Interview with Jack James, Author of The Health of Populations: Beyond Medicine
In October 2015, Elsevier published The Health of Populations: Beyond Medicine. This book provides a carefully constructed and thoroughly evidence-based critique of the limitations of conventional biomedical healthcare. We reached out to the author, Professor James to tell us more about what makes this book so relevant to the healthcare industry today.
What is your main area of teaching and research?
My background is multidisciplinary, inclusive of the biological, behavioral, and social sciences. My main disciplinary affiliation is psychology, and health psychology is the field in which I mostly teach and research.
What attracted you to this area and what are the major challenges facing your field today?
The main challenges in my field today are as they have always been: How best to optimize personal and population health and wellbeing. What attracted me to this field is the recognition that given current knowledge we are far less effective than we should be in optimizing health for the masses of people. Consequently, the world is confronted with a pandemic of avoidable chronic debilitating diseases. My aim is to share these realizations with others in order to foster better health, longer life, and greater wellbeing for current and future populations.
Why did you feel it was important to write a book on this topic?
Almost all discussions about health focus on biomedicine’s attempts to limit disease. These preoccupations are so widespread that many people assume that the goal of optimal health depends on ever-wider and more intensive implementation of medicine. But the evidence shows us that nothing could be further from the truth. Biomedical healthcare makes a minor contribution to population health. Worse, over-diagnosis and overtreatment have become leading global causes of death and disease.
The science of health shows that the total benefit from curative medicine cannot exceed the benefits of health promotion and disease prevention. Therefore, a viable means for optimizing health is to reduce the incidence of disease and injury through preventive interventions that reduce exposure to the environmental, social, and behavioral risk factors that cause disease.
What sets your book, The Health of Populations: Beyond Medicine, apart from others in the market?
Compared to other books that have described some of the limitations of medicine and advocated for the benefits of preventive healthcare, this book is more comprehensive and integrated in its analysis of contemporary healthcare problems and solutions. This book is also more far-reaching in its implications, leaving no room for doubt that the world has become over-medicalized and that preventive interventions offer the best solutions for optimizing personal and population health.
If you could provide readers with one key takeaway from your book, what would it be? What do you hope will be the main impact of your work?
The Health of Populations: Beyond Medicine shows that the totality of evidence, both historical and contemporary, is incontrovertible: Susceptibility to disease and injury is determined more by environmental, social, and behavioral causes associated with ways of living than by any other factors.
Therefore, optimal personal and population health depend on a radical restructuring of contemporary healthcare. Rather than being the dominant approach to healthcare, conventional biomedicine – with its modest effectiveness, inherent lack of safety, and unsustainable economic costs – should be used as an adjunct to preventive interventions that address root causes. This book aims to hasten the transformation in healthcare necessary to optimize the health of populations.
Professor Jack James is Australian born and educated. He is currently Professor of Psychology at Reykjavik University, Iceland, and Professor Emeritus at The National University of Ireland, Galway and is mainly based in Iceland and Ireland with an occasional sojourn in Australia.
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