Lesson 3: Measures of Risk

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Lesson 2 described measures of central location and spread, which are useful for summarizing continuous variables. However, many variables used by field epidemiologists are categorical variables, some of which have only two categories — exposed yes/no, test positive/negative, case/control, and so on. These variables have to be summarized with frequency measures such as ratios, proportions, and rates. Incidence, prevalence, and mortality rates are three frequency measures that are used to characterize the occurrence of health events in a population.


After studying this lesson and answering the questions in the exercises, you will be able to:

  • Calculate and interpret the following epidemiologic measures:
    • Ratio
    • Proportion
    • Incidence proportion (attack rate)
    • Incidence rate
    • Prevalence
    • Mortality rate
  • Choose and apply the appropriate measures of association and measures of public health impact

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