Social determinants of health and health equity policy research: Exploring the use, misuse, and nonuse of policy analysis theory
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Despite a dramatic growth in SDH/HE (social determinants of health/health equity) public policy research and demonstrated government interest in promoting equity in health policies, health inequities are actually growing among some populations and there is little evidence that "healthy public policies" are being adopted and implemented. Moreover, these issues are typically failing to even reach governments' policy agendas, which is a critical step towards serious debate and the identification of policy options. This systematic review pursues three main objectives. First, is to identify barriers to SDH/HE issues reaching the government policy agenda. Second, to evaluate the characteristics of peer-reviewed research articles that utilize common policy analysis theories. And third, to determine the extent to which the SDH/HE literature utilizes common policy analysis theories. Our systematic review, conducted in June 2012, identified 6200 SDH/HE related articles in the peer-reviewed literature; however, only seven articles explicitly used a commonly recognized policy analysis theory to inform their analysis. Our analysis revealed that the SDH/HE policy literature appears to be focused on advocacy rather than analysis and that the use of policy analysis theory is extremely limited. Our results also suggest that when such theories are incorporated into an analysis they are often not comprehensively employed. We propose explanations for this non-use and misuse of policy analysis theory, and conclude that researchers may have greater influence in helping to get SDH/HE issues onto government policy agendas if they gain a greater understanding of the policy process and the value of incorporating policy analysis theories into their research. Using a policy analysis lens to help identify why healthy public policies are typically not being adopted is an important step towards moving beyond advocacy to understanding and addressing some of the political barriers to reforms.
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