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Science and health: an evidence-based approach

This key introductory module introduces the science of human health and is structured around eight globally important health topics, ranging from nutrition and infectious diseases to pain and breast cancer screening. Each topic integrates key concepts in the biological, chemical and physical sciences with psychology and health statistics to illuminate the causes of disease and disability and the consequence for individuals and populations. You will also develop the skills you need for further study of the health sciences, including evaluating evidence; handling numbers; presenting data; writing skills; and using information technology.

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Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
1 7 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module is studied online and presented through eight globally important health topics:

Topic 1: Infectious disease
The emergence of ‘new’ infections such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola and the spread of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are among many signs that infectious diseases still threaten global health. This topic describes the range of infectious agents and the diseases they cause and the risk factors that increase exposure or susceptibility to infection. It reviews the contribution of hand hygiene, sanitation, an effective immune system, vaccination programmes and other defences against infection and the difficulties faced in protecting the world’s population – particularly young children – from infectious diseases.

Topic 2: Nutrition and malnutrition
Poor nutrition is a major underlying cause of death and disability worldwide. A third of all child deaths are a result of insufficient nutrition, but obesity has also increased rapidly in many countries, with consequences that include increased diabetes and heart disease. This topic looks at why we need food and how our bodies process it. You will learn about body systems, tissues and cells as well as the components of a healthy diet, the chemical composition of nutrient molecules and the biology of digestion and nutrient absorption. Finally, you will explore the causes and consequences of poor nutrition and some interventions that could reduce nutrition-related disease.

Topic 3: Understanding and treating pain
This topic is an integrated account of the psychosocial and neurobiological aspects of pain. It considers the common properties of pain triggered by physical injuries and the pain of events such as divorce, and explores how you might measure these experiences of pain. You’ll study the structure and function of the nervous system and how the activity within it can cause and modulate the perception of pain. Finally, you will learn how different pain treatments are evaluated and used in the clinic.

Topic 4: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
Permanent loss of lung function due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects millions of people worldwide. In wealthy countries, most people with COPD are older cigarette smokers, but in poorer countries, younger women and children exposed to indoor smoke from cooking fires also suffer from this condition. This case study explains the science of respiration, the effects of COPD on people’s lives and the treatment and prevention of COPD.

Topic 5: Acute trauma and recovery
Stroke and traumatic injury cause millions of deaths and disabilities globally and both are rising as populations age and the volume of road traffic increases. You will look at how the body reacts to tissue damage, focusing on brain lesions and limb fractures in younger and older people. The psychological – as well as the physical – effects of injury are considered in the context of variations in access to emergency and longer-term care.

Topic 6: Alcohol and human health
Heavy drinking increases the risk of life-threatening diseases, accidental injury, psychological impairment, and addiction, but many people argue that moderate intake has some health benefits. You’ll explore global trends in alcohol use, the chemistry of alcohol, how alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and its effects on the body’s major organs and on behaviour and memory.

Topic 7: Screening for breast cancer
Mammography screening using X-ray imaging to detect early breast cancers in women occurs in most wealthy countries. This topic explains how breast cancer develops, the risk factors associated with the development of breast cancer, the rationale for screening and how the screening technology works. It also considers the debate about the benefits and drawbacks of screening and explores the tests used to confirm a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Topic 8: Sight: a window on the world
Partial or total loss of sight affects millions of people worldwide, and has an enormous impact at the level of the individual, their family, and wider society. In this topic you’ll learn about the science of sight, how the eye works and how it can malfunction to cause the common forms of impaired vision. Many cases of sight loss are preventable or curable, and you’ll see how a range of approaches from all the health sciences can contribute to restoring vision. This topic will also give you the opportunity to revisit the knowledge and skills that you have acquired in earlier parts of the module, and will help you prepare for the end of module assessment.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system. You must also submit your end-of-module assessment (EMA) online.

Assessment is an essential part of the teaching, so you are expected to complete it all.

Future availability

Science and health: an evidence-based approach (SDK100) starts twice a year – in February and October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2021 and February 2022.

We expect it to start for the last time in February 2023.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. It provides core subject knowledge and the study skills for both higher education and distance learning that will help you progress to modules at OU level 2.

    The module is designed for students who are new to science as well as those with some background in a science-related subject. Although you’re not expected to have any previous knowledge of science, you should be able to do simple calculations (add, subtract, multiply and divide whole numbers) and to understand written English of the standard of a broadsheet newspaper (for example The Daily Telegraph or The Guardian). If you haven’t studied science or maths up to GCSE level fairly recently, or you’re new to using a computer to access online resources, you may need to spend slightly longer on the study materials. An adviser will be able to discuss with you how much extra time you are likely to need and whether you should consider completing an OU Access module or some preparatory study before beginning SDK100.

    Our online self-assessment package Are you ready for SDK100? offers an interactive quiz to help you decide whether you have the recommended background knowledge to start the module.

    Successful completion of this module will equip you to go on to study Investigating psychology 1 (DE100), Science: concepts and practice (S112) or any of the OU level 2 health sciences modules: Human biology (SK299), Cell biology (S294) or The science of the mind: investigating mental health (SDK228). By the end of this module you will be expected to be working successfully at the level required of first-year undergraduate students.  

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Preparatory work

    The module website includes some induction materials that will help you learn to navigate the website, organise your study materials and start developing a personal development plan. You will be able to access the module website 2-3 weeks before the module starts so that you can work through these activities.

    If you wish to improve your study skills, you are advised to read The Good Study Guide (2005) by Andy Northedge, published by The Open University.


    Start End England fee Register
    09 Oct 2021 Jun 2022 -

    Registration now closed

    29 Jan 2022 Sep 2022 £3168.00

    Registration closes 13/01/22 (places subject to availability)

    This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2023.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2022. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 22/09/2021.

    What's included

    All of the study materials for this module are provided online on the module website.

    You will need

    You will find it useful to have a simple calculator as well as a notebook and pen for note taking and working out your answers to self-assessment questions and activities.

    You may need to draw diagrams or graphs and then use either a scanner or a digital camera to produce files of these diagrams for inclusion in your assessments.

    The module includes some simple home projects and a home experiment which may require some basic kitchen equipment, including a kitchen weighing scale, a means of boiling water, a 1-litre measuring jug, a clock or watch, a teaspoon, dried baker’s yeast and sugar.

    Computing requirements

    You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported, versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

    It's also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook, however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you'll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SDK100 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.