Background: Action on the social determinants of health is considered a necessary approach to improving health equity. Most of the social determinants of health lie outside the sphere of the health sector and thus collaboration with governmental and non-governmental sectors outside of health are required to develop policies and programs to improve health equity. Case studies of intersectoral action are available, however there is limited information about the impact of intersectoral action on the social determinants of health and health equity.
Methods: Search and retrieval of literature published between 2001 and 2011 was conducted in 6 databases. A staged screening of titles and abstracts, and later full-text, was conducted by two independent reviewers. Reviewers independently assessed the quality of the articles deemed relevant for inclusion. Data were extracted and synthesized in narrative format for all included studies, conducted by one reviewer and checked by another.
Results: 17 articles of varied methodological quality met the inclusion criteria. One systematic review investigating partnership interventions found mixed and limited impacts on health outcomes. Primary studies evaluating the impact of upstream and midstream interventions showed mixed effects. Downstream interventions were generally moderately effective in increasing the availability and use of services by marginalized communities.
Conclusions: The literature evaluating the impact of intersectoral action on health equity is limited. The included studies identified reveal a moderate to no effect on the social determinants of health. The evidence on the impact of intersectoral action on health equity is even more limited. The lack of evidence should not be interpreted as a lack of effect. Rigorous evaluations of intersectoral action are needed to strengthen the evidence base of this public health practice.