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Does public health advocacy seek to redress health inequities? A scoping review

The public health (PH) sector is ideally situated to take a lead advocacy role in catalysing and guiding multi-sectoral action to address social determinants of health inequities, but evidence suggests that PH’s advocacy role has not been fully realised. The purpose of this review was to determine the extent to which the PH advocacy literature addresses the goal of reducing health and social inequities, and to increase understanding of contextual factors shaping the discourse and practice of PH advocacy.

This review collates and analyzes not only theoretical and conceptual literature, but also empirical literature, professional and education resources and standards, and secondary literature such as editorials and commentaries.  The authors have provided a comprehensive list of key documents to guide public health practitioners in developing their advocacy strategies to address health inequities.  They also make the point that if the PH sector is to fulfill its advocacy role in catalysing action to reduce health inequities, it will be necessary to address advocacy barriers at multiple levels, promote multi-sectoral efforts that implicate the state and corporations in the production of health inequities, and rally state involvement to redress these injustices.

The review notes the gap between theory and practice and suggests a few reasons for this: it could be because advocates focused on social action may be less inclined towards publication, or it could be that advocacy is taking place largely outside of the public health sector and that public health advocacy for social justice is not making significant headway.  Either way, the authors make the case for increased education of public health practitioners about public health advocacy in general, and advocacy for health equity in particular. They note that little attention has been given to organisational capacity for engaging in public health advocacy, specifically to redress health inequities. They conclude by calling for more applied research focused on strengthening this capacity and public health practitioners engaging in equity-focused advocacy and related evaluation research, even when advocacy efforts are unsuccessful at affecting change. 

Use this resource to:

  • Find examples of public health advocacy in action to support their own planning and evaluation
  • Facilitate discussion about how to strengthen organizational and education supports for public health advocacy in their communities
  • Bring together key stakeholders to explore ways for public health to support collaborative advocacy to redress health inequities


Cohen, B.E., & Marshall, S.G. (2016).  Does public health advocacy seek to redress health inequities? A scoping review.  Health and Social Care in the Community.  Retrieved from

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Tags: Access to health services, Assess and report, Communicate, Community engagement, Competencies & organizational standards , Critical works in health equity, Early childhood development, Environmental health, Evaluation, Food security, Health literacy, Healthy public policy, Income inequality, Indigenous health , Infectious disease, Intersectoral action, Key concepts, Knowledge translation , Leadership & capacity building, Methods & tools, Modify & orient, Partnership , Policy analysis, Public health unit / health authority, Racism/racialization, Sex & gender, Socioeconomic status , Working conditions

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