Evaluating the evidence base: Policies and interventions to address socioeconomic status gradients in healtha


Address for correspondence: William H. Dow, Division of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, 239 University Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360. wdow@berkeley.edu


This chapter discusses the current evidence base for policies that could address socioeconomic status (SES) health gradients in the United States. The present volume has documented an enormous amount of research on the linkages between SES and health, but there are still relatively few studies that rigorously establish the effectiveness of particular policies or interventions in reducing those gradients. Given the difficulty in developing randomized evidence for many types of interventions related to social determinants of health, we argue for conducting policy analysis from a Bayesian perspective. This Bayesian approach combines information on best available theory and evidence regarding probable health benefits and costs of an intervention, providing a framework that also incorporates the probable costs of inaction. The second half of the chapter adopts a ladder metaphor to classify policies and interventions that could reduce SES gradients in population health. Using this framework, we consider the evidence base for various types of policies, focusing primarily on the social determinants of health, under the rubric that “all policy is health policy.” We conclude by discussing promising strategies for future strengthening of the evidence base for policy, including the role of health impact assessment.