• Health inequalities;
  • systematic reviews;
  • public health interventions;
  • public health regimes

Systematic reviews have become an important methodology in the United Kingdom by which research informs health policy, and their use now extends beyond evidence-based medicine to evidence-based public health and, particularly, health inequalities policies. This article reviews the limitations of systematic reviews as stand-alone tools for this purpose and suggests a complementary approach to make better use of the evidence. That is, systematic reviews and other sources of evidence should be incorporated into a wider analytical framework, the public health regime (defined here as the specific legislative, social, political, and economic structures that have an impact on both public health and the appropriateness and effectiveness of public health interventions adopted). At the national level this approach would facilitate analysis at all levels of the policy framework, countering the current focus on individual interventions. It could also differentiate at the international level between those policies and interventions that are effective in different contexts and are therefore potentially generalizable and those that depend on particular conditions for success.