Simulation modeling to enhance population health intervention research for chronic disease prevention
Population Health Intervention Research (PHIR) is an expanding field that explores the health effects of population-level interventions conducted within and outside of the health sector. Simulation modeling—the use of mathematical models to predict health outcomes in populations given a set of specified inputs—is a useful, yet underutilized tool for PHIR. It can be employed at several phases of the research process: (1) planning and designing PHIR studies; (2) implementation; and (3) knowledge translation of findings across settings and populations. Using the example of community-wide, built environment interventions for the prevention of type 2 diabetes, we demonstrate how simulation models can be a powerful technique for chronic disease prevention research within PHIR. With increasingly available data on chronic disease risk factors and outcomes, the use of simulation modeling in PHIR for chronic disease prevention is anticipated to grow. There is a continued need to ensure models are appropriately validated and researchers should be cautious in their interpretation of model outputs given the uncertainties that are inherent with simulation modeling approaches. However, given the complexity of disease pathways and methodological challenges of PHIR studies, simulation models can be a valuable tool for researchers studying population interventions that hold the potential to improve health and reduce health inequities.