This paper describes the application of the principles of evidence based medicine to public health. It recounts the experience of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in England (NICE) which acquired a remit to develop public health guidance in 2005. Some of the history of the origins of the evidence based approach is described in the writings of Cochrane and others, and the way that this came to be a critical part of the NICE approach to developing clinical cost effectiveness is outlined. The challenge of applying these methods to an evidence base which is social and psychological as well as biomedical is considered. Key problems are identified: the breadth of the evidence base, different analytic levels of explanation, and the length of the causal chain between interventions and outcomes in public health.
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