Impact of political economy on population health: a systematic review of reviews

McCartney, G., Hearty, W., Arnott, J., Popham, F. , Cumbers, A. and McMaster, R. (2019) Impact of political economy on population health: a systematic review of reviews. American Journal of Public Health, 109(6), e1-e12. (doi:10.2105/AJPH.2019.305001) (PMID:31067117)

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Abstract

Background. Although there is a large literature examining the relationship between a wide range of political economy exposures and health outcomes, the extent to which the different aspects of political economy influence health, and through which mechanisms and in what contexts, is only partially understood. The areas in which there are few high-quality studies are also unclear. Objectives. To systematically review the literature describing the impact of political economy on population health. Search Methods. We undertook a systematic review of reviews, searching MEDLINE, Embase, International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, ProQuest Public Health, Sociological Abstracts, Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts, EconLit, SocINDEX, Web of Science, and the gray literature via Google Scholar. Selection Criteria. We included studies that were a review of the literature. Relevant exposures were differences or changes in policy, law, or rules; economic conditions; institutions or social structures; or politics, power, or conflict. Relevant outcomes were any overall measure of population health such as self-assessed health, mortality, life expectancy, survival, morbidity, well-being, illness, ill health, and life span. Two authors independently reviewed all citations for relevance. Data Collection and Analysis. We undertook critical appraisal of all included reviews by using modified Assessing the Methodological Quality of Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR) criteria and then synthesized narratively giving greater weight to the higher-quality reviews. Main Results. From 4912 citations, we included 58 reviews. Both the quality of the reviews and the underlying studies within the reviews were variable. Social democratic welfare states, higher public spending, fair trade policies, extensions to compulsory education provision, microfinance initiatives in low-income countries, health and safety policy, improved access to health care, and high-quality affordable housing have positive impacts on population health. Neoliberal restructuring seems to be associated with increased health inequalities and higher income inequality with lower self-rated health and higher mortality. Authors’ Conclusions. Politics, economics, and public policy are important determinants of population health. Countries with social democratic regimes, higher public spending, and lower income inequalities have populations with better health. There are substantial gaps in the synthesized evidence on the relationship between political economy and health, and there is a need for higher-quality reviews and empirical studies in this area. However, there is sufficient evidence in this review, if applied through policy and practice, to have marked beneficial health impacts. Public Health Implications. Policymakers should be aware that social democratic welfare state types, countries that spend more on public services, and countries with lower income inequalities have better self-rated health and lower mortality. Research funders and researchers should be aware that there remain substantial gaps in the available evidence base. One such area concerns the interrelationship between governance, polities, power, macroeconomic policy, public policy, and population health, including how these aspects of political economy generate social class processes and forms of discrimination that have a differential impact across social groups. This includes the influence of patterns of ownership (of land and capital) and tax policies. For some areas, there are many lower-quality reviews, which leave uncertainties in the relationship between political economy and population health, and a high-quality review is needed. There are also areas in which the available reviews have identified primary research gaps such as the impact of changes to housing policy, availability, and tenure.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Popham, Dr Timothy and McMaster, Professor Robert and Hearty, Wendy and McCartney, Gerry and Cumbers, Professor Andrew
Authors: McCartney, G., Hearty, W., Arnott, J., Popham, F., Cumbers, A., and McMaster, R.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > MRC/CSO Unit
College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Management
Journal Name:American Journal of Public Health
Publisher:American Public Health Association
ISSN:0090-0036
ISSN (Online):1541-0048
Published Online:08 May 2019

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
727651SPHSU Core Renewal: Measuring and Analysing Socioeconomic Inequalities in Health Research ProgrammeAlastair LeylandMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_12017/13IHW - MRC/CSO SPHU
UNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIEDSPHSU13UNSPECIFIED