Reducing health inequalities in priority public health conditions: using rapid review to develop proposals for evidence-based policy

J Public Health (Oxf). 2010 Dec;32(4):496-505. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdq028. Epub 2010 Apr 29.


Background: In November 2008, the Secretary of State for Health (England) commissioned an independent review to propose effective strategies for reducing health inequalities. Review task groups were given just 3 months to make preliminary evidence-based recommendations. In this paper, we describe the methodology used, and the recommendations made, by the group tasked with inequalities in priority public health conditions.

Methods: A series of rapid literature reviews of the policy-relevant international evidence base was undertaken. Quantitative studies of any design, which looked at the effects on health inequalities, the social gradient or overall population health effects, of interventions designed to address the social determinants of selected public health priority conditions were examined. Recommendations were distilled using a Delphi approach.

Results: Five key policy proposals were made: reduce smoking in the most deprived groups; improve availability of and access to healthier food choices amongst low income groups; improve the early detection and treatment of diseases; introduce a minimum price per unit for alcohol and improve the links between physical and mental health care.

Conclusion: The combination of rapid review and Delphi distillation produced a shortlist of evidence-based recommendations within the allocated time frame. There was a dearth of robust evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the interventions we examined: our proposals had to be based on extrapolation from general population health effects. Extensive, specific and robust evidence is urgently needed to guide policy and programmes. In the meantime, our methodology provides a reasonably sound and pragmatic basis for evidence-based policy-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • England
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Health Planning Guidelines*
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Neoplasms
  • Obesity
  • Policy Making*
  • Public Health*
  • Review Literature as Topic