Theories of the policy process in health promotion research: A review

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Health Promotion International


The Ottawa Charter laid the ground work for a new research and practice agenda by urging health promoters to advocate for healthy public policies. After more than 20 years, it is now time to reflect on the state of policy research in health promotion and to examine how rigorously theories are applied. The review of the literature was conducted on 11 peer-reviewed journals. The journals were selected for their solid track record in publishing health promotion articles and by using a set of pre-defined inclusion and exclusion criteria. The articles, published between January 1986 and June 2006, were searched using Medline and CINAHL databases. The selected papers feature search terms related to 'politics', 'policy', 'advocacy' and 'coalition'. We examined the theoretical grounding of each paper and whether it focuses on policy content (e.g. nature, impact, evolution of the policy), policy processes (e.g. advocacy capacity building and strategies) or theoretical/methodological issues in policy analysis. This review demonstrates that policy research in health promotion is still largely an a-theoretical enterprise. Out of the 119 articles that were found eligible, 39 did apply to some degree a theoretical framework, of which 21 referred to a theoretical framework from political science. We conclude that the field has yet to acknowledge critical concepts that would help to shed light on the policy process, and that validated rigorous theoretical frameworks to inform research and practice are hardly applied. Recommendations are formulated to improve policy research in health promotion. © The Author (2010).

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Author First name, Last name, Institution

Eric Breton, Zayed University
Evelyne De Leeuw, Deakin University