Theory and research in promoting public health

Edited by SarahEarle, Cathy E.Lloyd, MoyraSidell and SueSpurr . Published by SAGE Publications , London , June 2007 . RRP $45.95. ISBN 9781412930710 .

Reviewed by Tony Adams

Chair of the Global Comission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication

I doubt that this book will be of much relevance to Australian readers as it is totally British in its orientation and is apparently designed as an undergraduate text for students of the Open University in the United Kingdom. It may be of interest to British students doing undergraduate studies in psychology and social work, for example, and even to high school students wanting an introduction to health promotion in that country. It gives some information on national public health statistics and national surveys.

The book is presented in two parts:

  • Promoting Public Health – exploring the issues, factors that influence health, who promotes public health, and theoretical perspectives.
  • Researching Health – studying population health, qualitative research, using research for multidisciplinary interventions and evaluating public health interventions.

At first glance, these chapter headings look encouraging. The authors, however, are mostly social scientists in the Health and Social Care Faculty at the Open University. Unfortunately, this gives the book a very heavy bias against any biomedical aspects of public health. Had they included epidemiologists and public health administrators and evaluators, the book would have been much more balanced.

The British seem to have a penchant for using the term ‘new public health’, which, along with the push to have health promotion as separate from mainstream public health, has in my opinion led to an unfortunate fracturing of our discipline. Health promotion is part of overall public health and any texts on “research in promoting public health” should have representative contributions from the other players.

To be fair, the few paragraphs on epidemiology in this book are a reasonable introduction to the topic, but the almost complete absence of reference to major public health initiatives such as immunisation, water fluoridation, seat belts, random breath testing, etc (with the exception of obesity prevention) is inexcusable.

Some factual information is incorrect. For instance, the authors praise India for its success in polio eradication. China would have been a better example; India is among the four remaining countries in the world with endemic polio and may well be the last country to eradicate the disease!

The book contains much information on British health organisations that may be of use to British students but will be of limited value for Australian and international students. Students of health promotion may want to borrow it from a library, but I would not recommend this book for Australian courses.