HiNEWS Umbrella Review of Public Health Policies

by Katie Thomson (HiNEWS)

Welfare states use a variety of policy mechanisms – namely public health policies, social policies and healthcare services – to improve the health of their citizens. Policies such as minimum alcohol pricing, tobacco taxation or banning junk food advertising aimed at children, have great potential to improve public health, by shifting the distribution of health risk and addressing the underlying social, economic and environmental conditions. However it is imperative to understand the impact of these policies on health across the entire social gradient. Thereby ensuring the most marginalised, are not adversely effected by policies which aim to improve health overall.

As part of the HiNEWS project, we recently completed an umbrella systematic review (‘review of reviews’) which aimed to understand the effects of public health policies in high-income countries. We found evidence of 29 reviews (comprising 150 unique primary studies) which detailed the evidence of how fiscal, regulatory, education, preventative treatment and screening approaches can be used by governments to influence health inequalities across eight key domains.

Our research highlighted thirteen specific policies which reduce health inequalities which policy makers may wish to adopt to improve the health of the most marginalised within society. These include, taxes on unhealthy food, tobacco advertising control, traffic calming measures and oral heal initiatives amongst others. Our review also demonstrates that for some potentially important interventions, such as for policies to control alcohol, there is a lack of robust evaluations highlighting the effects on different groups of people. Upstream public health interventions offer great hope to improve health for all. However, a comprehensive understanding on the effects of different interventions is a necessary first step to ensure policies have an equitable benefit for all members of society and therefore are worthy tools at the disposal of governments tasked with improving health.

To access the publication, go to: bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-018-5677-1

Text based on Fuse open science blog: fuseopenscienceblog.blogspot.com/2018/07/how-can-governments-reduce-health.html