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Population Characteristics


Certain factors, like your sex or age, can influence your health or risk for certain diseases. The same is true for populations. Population characteristics can help determine the possible impact of health problems and disease trends and patterns over time and across locations.

Population characteristics include

  • sex,
  • age,
  • race and ethnicity, and
  • socioeconomic factors, such as how much money and what kind of job you have.

Age and Sex

Different people in different careers.Age and sex are important factors to consider when describing the effects of disease or illness on a community and society. Many studies have shown that these factors can indicate how many people have, and how many people will get, a specific disease.


  • Age is an important factor for some health conditions. One example is heat-related illness. People aged 65 years and older are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Infants and young children are sensitive to the effects of extreme heat. In addition, children must rely on other people to keep them cool and hydrated. These issues make older adults and the very young at higher risk for heat-related illness compared to other age groups.
  • A person's sex can put them at risk for different diseases. For example, only men can get prostate cancer and only women can get ovarian cancer.
  • Women are about as likely as men to develop high blood pressure during their lifetimes. However, for people under 45 years old, the condition affects more men than women. For people 65 years and older, it affects more women than men.

Race and Ethnicity

Race and ethnicity may be related to the number of new and existing cases of a particular disease. For example, the number of new cases of different types of cancer among racial groups varies greatly. More new cases of breast cancer, leukemia, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma occur among white women; more new cases of colon and pancreatic cancer occur among black women; more new cases of cervical cancer occur among Hispanic women; and more new cases of stomach cancer occur among Asian or Pacific Islander women.


Socioeconomic factors are conditions that that may affect a person's or population's way of life and their health. These factors include education, occupation, and income. They may be related to how much money a person or population has, or if they have health insurance. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the following estimated percentages of the population are living in poverty:

  • 8.6% of non-Hispanic white Americans
  • 24.7% of African Americans
  • 23.2% of Hispanic or Latino Americans
  • 11.8% of Asian or Pacific Islander Americans

Research has shown that people with limited means, such as money and health insurance, may be unhealthier at birth and throughout their lives. Studies also show that levels of education and income, and occupation are related to risks for heart disease, asthma, and lung cancer. These relationships must be considered when deciding if the environment and health outcomes are connected.


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