Situating Agent-Based Modelling in Population Health Research


Abstract Today’s most troublesome population health challenges are often driven by social and environmental determinants, which are difficult to model using traditional epidemiological methods. We agree with those who have argued for the wider adoption of agent-based modelling (ABM) in taking on these challenges. However, while ABM has been used occasionally in population health, we argue that for ABM to be most effective in the field it should be used as a means for answering questions normally inaccessible to the traditional epidemiological toolkit. In an effort to clearly illustrate the utility of ABM for population health research, and to clear up persistent misunderstandings regarding the method’s conceptual underpinnings, we offer a detailed presentation of the core concepts of complex systems theory, and summarise why simulations are essential to the study of complex systems. We then examine the current state of the art in ABM for population health, and propose they are well-suited for the study of the ‘wicked’ problems in population health, and could make significant contributions to theory and intervention development in these areas

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