Normally you might manage weeds using herbicides or tackle crime through police, but what if there was another way to look at things?

By taking a step back and trying to see the bigger picture, social scientists have made profound advancements through researching the behaviour of people and the environment in which they live to improve health, equality, employment and the environment.

Health for all

When illness creeps in, you wouldn't usually look for symptoms such as education, income, health care, housing or employment for a diagnosis. Research on these social factors has helped communities all over the world reap the health benefits.

Professor Glenn Salkeld, UOW's Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, says "We know that where governments neglect social determinants, more and more people experience disadvantage that results in mental ill health, chronic disease and premature death."

"Governments around the world are working to reduce inequality and social disadvantage by improving sub standard housing and transport infrastructure, building social support networks and care; giving people the opportunity to stay connected to each other and go about their daily lives."

This type of research is paying off through the Dementia Friendly Communities project piloted in Kiama. Rather than relying on medical solutions for the disease, the team of researchers found answers within the community through examining:

  • Access to buildings, shops and banks
  • Use of pathways, roads and crossings
  • Signage
  • Social interaction and technology

Making Pals with Plants

How could weeds be related to social science? UOW researcher Dr Jennifer Atchison looks at how human behaviour affects the spread of stubborn weeds. Invasive weed species are one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity; the cost of managing weeds rose to $13.6 billion during the 2011-2012 financial year. Atchison looks at how plants shape human behaviour, and also how they might provoke us to think differently and live more sustainably. One action people take is to volunteer to help kill-off weeds. Atchison asks what motivates people to be involved in environmental volunteering, in a bid to help combat one of the leading threats to global biodiversity.

Improving Criminal Justice

Why do people commit crime? How does society respond to crime? Criminology is an important area of social science that explores these questions, and many more, to challenge current systems of justice, create policy and practice change where it is needed, and make communities safer. Dr Natalia Hanley is an expert in community corrections, street gangs and criminal justice policy. Her recent work as a Criminologist has helped rethink criminal justice policy for victims of sexual offences.

Coping with the Rise of the Concrete Jungle

Whether you're sitting in front of the television or out in nature, both could have major implications for your health.

A link between junk food ads on TV and poor diet choices in children has already been established by Dietician and Public Health expert Dr Bridget Kelly.

In a UOW study of more than 400 Australian children aged between 10 and 16, she found those who watched more commercial TV were more likely to have poorer diets compared to those who didn’t. Dr Kelly has since called for public policy intervention to help improve children's health.

As our lives become increasingly filled with technology, traffic and urbanisation, UOW researchers will be involved with a $3.2 million joint research project, to look at the impacts of green-spaces on health.

Greener Cities Healthier Lives will look at how nature, parks and greenery can affect mental wellbeing, physical activity and provide relief from noise and air pollution and busy traffic.

The study will inform policy makers on the ideal amount of green space to keep people healthy, happy and out of hospital.

Making Smoking un-cool

Smoking can often be considered a social activity, but the habit has become less desirable over the years with a little help from the social science community.

Public Health was the driving force that helped discover a link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Then came the push through education, psychology and public health to change people's behaviour, reduce tobacco consumption and save lives.

Professor Salkeld says Social Science, as a discipline, is all about empowering people.
"Particularly those in the community who are most vulnerable – to develop their capabilities and live happy, healthy, secure and sustainable lives."

If you want the opportunity to learn from these researchers at the top-rated university for Social Sciences in 2016,1 have a look at UOW's Social Science courses.

1. The Federal Government’s Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) ranked UOW in 2016 as the best university in Australia for Humanities, Culture and Social Sciences. UOW is also ranked as the best university in New South Wales and the ACT for Health Services and Support.