The spectrum of research for public health law



TYPE Prevention Centre News

Our research looks at the determinants and relationships between law, policy making and health. We brought together findings from Prevention Centre-funded projects that focus on public health law and chronic disease prevention and identified the collective implications of this research.

This knowledge synthesis process is different to a typical systematic review. It focused on a selective body of research generated by Prevention Centre projects since 2013, and was co-produced by researchers, communication experts and policy partners.

Led by our Research Officer Maddie Heenan, the findings are based on 12 projects and 40 peer-reviewed publications and reports, focusing either on big policy issues or law and regulation. The public health topics covered include food, alcohol, tobacco, physical activity, immunisation and road safety, with research focusing on local, state and national levels of government.

Public health law can really help make the case for prevention and this synthesis of findings and expertise from across our programs of work generates new learnings and insights for both future research and for policy making.

Maddie Heenan, Prevention Centre

Public health law research is a relatively newly defined field of research that looks at the determinants and relationships between law, policymaking and health. Research into specific topics is common, such as food labelling laws and implications for diet and obesity prevention, yet little work has been undertaken that examines and synthesises the evidence across topic areas to generate lessons for applied policy and practice.

We found evidence of how public health law is important for driving cross-government action for systems change to prevent chronic disease and that there are opportunities for public health law to strengthen a co-benefits approach across health and other sectors

The role of public health law is particularly important in addressing complex problems such as chronic disease prevention and the social determinants of poor health (including in food systems, tobacco control, alcohol policy and urban planning).

Prevention Centre research shows the Australian public supports a range of government regulations for preventive health, including restrictions on unhealthy advertising to children, restrictions on alcohol advertising, setting salt limits on processed foods, immunisations for children, active transport measures, and tobacco control.

We have also released a Prevention Works podcast on the project with Maddie Heenan in discussion with lawyer and public health researcher Dr Jenny Kaldor.

A key aspect of both public health and then public health law is the idea of prevention

Dr Jenny Kaldor

Although this is a new field of research in Australia, there are many different types of evidence such as epidemiology, modelling and implementation science that can also support the use of public health law at different stages of the policy cycle.

Future work could build on this knowledge synthesis to examine and further describe the strength and nature of evidence that is required to support public health policy, regulation and law.