Application of the Model

As talked about earlier, the social ecological model is a “Theory based framework,” that seeks to understand all the factors, including social and environmental, that may lead to certain behaviors in individuals that affect their health. The model provides points at which different entities can interject to hopefully change said behavior on a certain level in hopes to prevent further harm or disease. It is a model primarily focused on health promotion and prevention. In order to use the model effectively, one must fully understand the levels and how they interact with one another. There are five levels to this model, the individual level, the interpersonal level, the community level, the organizational level and the policy, environmental level, and all in that order. Disease prevention starts from the bottom at the individual level and finishes at the top with the policy level.

The individual level seeks to change one’s attitudes and behaviors, typically through knowledge. For example, in 2013, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention used the social ecological model to represent their Colorectal Cancer Control Program’s approach at preventing that specific cancer. Beginning with the individual level, the CDC’s goal was to educate people on colorectal cancer, and the importance of being screened. This would hopefully change people’s mindset about getting screened which would lead to better overall health as those with the cancer could receive and early, treatable diagnosis (Center for Disease Control, 2015). For the next level, the interpersonal level, relationships to the individual are targeted. Individuals should be in healthy relationships where their friends, families, and healthcare providers, and those relationships should be ones that assist them and provide them with support. For the Colorectal Cancer program, providers were heavily targeted. They wanted to make sure healthcare providers reminded patients of screenings and helped them navigate and control their fears of screenings. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). The third level is the organizational level. At this level, we aim to look at the resources provided to us by certain organizations involved, and whether or not they are doing their jobs. In the case of colorectal cancer, were hospitals and doctor offices promoting screenings and the use of reminder systems? Were these organizations facilitating policies that focused on preventative care (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015)?

The fourth level is the community level. Here, we seek to understand how our community environment affects our behaviors and how we change them for the better. Are there any community centers that are offering education on public health issues? Are there any effective public health prevention campaigns tailored to specific communities? For colorectal prevention, researchers focused on collaborations with tribal health departments to expand screenings and also conducting educational campaigns (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015.) The fifth and final level is the policy level. At this level, we examine how policies in government, local, state or even federal, have an effect on our health behaviors and health overall. Maybe there are no laws regarding healthcare which in turn leaves poor people uninsured, or maybe there is but locals know nothing about it or how to navigate it. At this level in the colorectal cancer program, collaboration with certain groups and coalitions to promote public health policy were implemented to effectively communicate to the public the regulations and laws. Also translating local policies for members of communities to understand was crucial. That could be anything from a local official declaring a month “Colorectal Cancer Screening Month,” to local officials passing resolutions to give communities better access to cancer screenings. By following these steps, the social ecological model is applied, and if done so thoroughly, can help to prevent disease within a population.

Image of gradually enlarging circles labeled Individual, Interpersonal, Organizational, Community, and Public Policy, respectively.

Source: University of Michigan School of Public Health