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Policy approaches to reducing health inequalities

This briefing note from the National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy, one of five sister centers of the NCCDH, introduces public health stakeholders to eight broad approaches to reducing health inequalities. The authors discuss the theoretical foundations of different policy approaches to acting on health inequities and how they might produce different effects based on their approach to reduce health inequalities.

Three ways of thinking about health inequalities are described; targeting disadvantaged groups, closing gaps, and addressing the gradient. The authors explain the difference between determinants of health and determinants of health inequalities including which policy approaches are most likely to address the various determinants. To explore the different potential effects, the authors discuss how the various approaches address social stratification, exposure to risk factors, the vulnerability of certain groups to particular conditions and the inequitable consequences as a result of specific conditions.

The approaches described are:

  • Political economy,
  • Macro social policies,
  • Intersectionality,
  • Life course approach,
  • Settings approach,
  • Approaches that aim at living conditions,
  • Approaches that target communities, and
  • Approaches aimed at individuals.

Use this resource to:

  • Identify and distinguish between policy approaches that can be used to improve health equity
  • Identify the potential impacts of different approaches to improving health equity and align your approach with the desired impact
  • Describe the differences between the social determinants of health and the social determinants of health inequalities


Mantoura, P. & Morrison, V. (2016). Policy Approaches to Reducing Health Inequalities. Montréal, Québec: National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy.

Related resources: 

  • Public Health Speaks: Intersectionality and health equity
  • Common agenda for public health action on health equity
  • Pathways to health equity and differential outcomes: A summary of the WHO document Equity, social determinants and public health programmes

Tags: Critical works in health equity, Healthy public policy, Leadership & capacity building, Modify & orient, Policy analysis

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