PHIRN: Population Health Improvement Research Network

Scoping Review of the Population Health Equity

lady-booksAbstract: Take Home Messages

The purpose of this scoping review was to better understand the field of population health research in Ontario by taking account of:

  • primary areas of population health research undertaken in the province;
  • researchers involved and geographic location of research undertaken;
  • gaps insofar as they relate to population health equity and interventions research

The key findings of the review of 173 academic and 114 grey literature sources published in English or French during the five-year period (2005-2009) include the following:

  • The primary institutional affiliation of the first authors and geographical location of the research they undertook have privileged large urban Ontario settings.
  • Quantitative research paradigms are predominant in population health equity research.
  • A key subpopulation of concern emphasized those with low income or socio-economic status. Related to this, income and immigrant status topped the list of social determinants of health in the academic literature. Access to health care programs and services is of greater concern in the grey literature.
  • The health behaviours most commonly addressed in the academic literature included healthy eating, substance abuse and physical activity whereas the grey literature tended to be focused more on health behaviour interventions and health promotion practices.
  • Mental health appears to be the most frequently studied population health issue in both the academic and grey literature, but the grey literature also reflects a broader spectrum of concern with on cardiovascular disease, diabetes, violence and cancer.

Results suggest there is a significant need for population health intervention and equity research in the province to move beyond a focus on health behaviour to address broader determinants of health at the individual as well as at collective levels, particularly among disadvantaged populations. Action on health equity requires sustained and interdisciplinary research in Ontario, particularly in regions of Ontario with underdeveloped research capacity.

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