England.  Change location

Science and health: an evidence-based approach

Qualification dates
Start End

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

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.

Entry requirements

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need the ability to:

  • add, subtract, multiply and divide simple numbers
  • read and understand written English of a style and complexity characteristic of a professional magazine or quality newspaper.

Are you ready for SDK100?

Preparatory work

The module website includes induction materials to help you navigate the website, organise your study materials and start a personal development plan. You can access the module website 2–3 weeks before the module begins.

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 broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

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.

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.

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.

Future availability

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

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024 and February 2025.

We expect it to start for the last time in February 2028.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Student Reviews

See what other students thought.