The effects of public health policies on health inequalities in high-income countries: an umbrella review
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionBMC Public Health. 2018, 18:869 1-21. 10.1186/s12889-018-5677-1
Background Socio-economic inequalities are associated with unequal exposure to social, economic and environmental risk factors, which in turn contribute to health inequalities. Understanding the impact of specific public health policy interventions will help to establish causality in terms of the effects on health inequalities. Methods Systematic review methodology was used to identify systematic reviews from high-income countries that describe the health equity effects of upstream public health interventions. Twenty databases were searched from their start date until May 2017. The quality of the included articles was determined using the Assessment of Multiple Systematic Reviews tool (AMSTAR). Results Twenty-nine systematic reviews were identified reporting 150 unique relevant primary studies. The reviews summarised evidence of all types of primary and secondary prevention policies (fiscal, regulation, education, preventative treatment and screening) across seven public health domains (tobacco, alcohol, food and nutrition, reproductive health services, the control of infectious diseases, the environment and workplace regulations). There were no systematic reviews of interventions targeting mental health. Results were mixed across the public health domains; some policy interventions were shown to reduce health inequalities (e.g. food subsidy programmes, immunisations), others have no effect and some interventions appear to increase inequalities (e.g. 20 mph and low emission zones). The quality of the included reviews (and their primary studies) were generally poor and clear gaps in the evidence base have been highlighted. Conclusions The review does tentatively suggest interventions that policy makers might use to reduce health inequalities, although whether the programmes are transferable between high-income countries remains unclear.