Background: Our aim, within the collaborative study SPHERE (Strengthening Public Health Research in Europe), was to produce a bibliometric overview of public health research literature for Europe.
Methods: A search strategy ('filter') was designed to interrogate the Science Citation Index (SCI) and the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) databases for research articles published between 01/01/1995 and 31/12/2004 in any language. We analysed output for country by population, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), burden of disease using DALYs, and language.
Results: Overlap between the two databases SCI and SSCI was 35%. 210,433 publications were identified after duplicates were removed, a world total of about 20,000 per year. Approximately 7,000 papers per year were produced in Europe and 9,400 by the USA. Thirteen of 28 individual European countries produced more than 100 public health papers per year. Publications per capita were highest in northern European countries. In multiple regression analyses, GDP was a modest predictor (r(2) = 0.53, P < 0.02) of publications for European countries, while population size and disability adjusted life years were not significantly related. Smaller countries and lower producers of public health research were more likely to collaborate with other countries. Of the publications, 3.5% were published in a non-English language, with German the most common.
Conclusion: There is marked variation in public health publication by country in Europe. Eastern and southern European countries appear to under-invest in public health research compared with northern European countries and compared to relative health need.