A Rapid Review to Support Healthy Communities

Addressing global public health challenges has been a major focus of, not only the United Nations’ 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but the globally agreed upon 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The COVID-19 pandemic has had major impacts on our communities and populations. It has contributed to 15 million global deaths in 2021/22, triggered a substantial rise in mental illness, stymied progress on universal health coverage, hampered progress against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, and severely impacted the health workforce. 

The Healthier Societies for Healthy Populations initiative, first launched in 2020, aims to develop a global system and policy research agenda to underpin efforts to promote healthy populations, global networking, and co-design. This initiative is driven by  three organisations: the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, the Government of Sweden, and the Wellcome Trust. Our Evidence Review Service (ERS) team was commissioned to rapidly review characteristics of  government-led interventions to support healthier populations to identify success factors and barriers.

The challenge:
Understand the characteristics of successful government-led interventions to support healthier populations
World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, the Government of Sweden, and Wellcome Trust

What did we do?

We conducted a rapid review of 169 relevant studies of five successful government-led interventions to support healthier communities:

  1. Front-of-package warnings on food labels containing high sugar, sodium or saturated fat (Chile),
  2. Healthy food initiatives (trans fats, calorie labelling, cap on beverage size; New York),
  3. Alcohol sales and transport ban during COVID (South Africa),
  4. Zero road safety initiative (Sweden), and
  5. Establishment of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

We then proceeded with a two step approach to identify barriers and facilitators within and across the interventions by conducting one-on-one interviews with key leaders from these five successful public health initiatives.

What did we find?

We identified both facilitators and barriers for interventions that support healthier societies:

Facilitators include: 

  • Political leadership
  • Public education
  • Multifaceted approaches
  • Stable funding, and 
  • Planning for the opposition. 

Barriers include: 

  • Industry opposition
  • The complex nature of public health challenges 
  • Unintended consequences, and 
  • Poor interagency and multi sector coordination. 

What’s next?

Findings from this review build a rich picture of key factors aiding or hindering public health efforts around the world. This starting portfolio of the five examples was designed to be built over time to deepen understanding of success factors and barriers to progress in this critical area.

Read the full publication in BMJ Global Health:

Link to publication

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