Uncovering the history of risk factors

February 12, 2018 | Press Releases & Announcements

Gerald Oppenheimer

Gerald Oppenheimer

Gerald Oppenheimer, faculty member at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, along with colleague David Shumway Jones from the Department of History of Science and the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University, have penned an examination of the origins of the term “risk factor,” particularly its introduction and subsequently widespread use in the fields of public health and medicine.

Most historians, epidemiologists, and physicians credit the Framingham Heart Study for coining the term “risk factor,” while others attribute the introduction of the term to life insurance companies. Upon analysis of digitized historical records, Oppenheimer and Jones argue that the term “risk factor” appeared long before the Framingham Heart Study was published and call for a revision to the history of the term’s origins. Oppenheimer argues, “This familiar history is incorrect. Taking advantage of the expanding availability of digitized and full-text searchable journals, textbooks, newspapers, and other sources, we have uncovered a deeper and broader history going back to the 19the century and to a variety of fields within and outside biomedicine.”

Their findings were published in the journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine.