Health department policy networks most cohesive in obesity/chronic disease and tobacco control

Policy; Public Health

Big-city health departments build cohesive and diverse networks of local organizations to support public-health policy work, according to new research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Researchers surveyed health departments and their local policy partners in 15 large U.S. cities. Partners included government agencies, universities, voluntary/advocacy groups, coalitions, non-profits, for-profits, and hospitals. The surveys gathered information about network composition and partnerships in each city for each of five policy areas. The study team computed and compared connectivity and diversity scores across cities and policy areas; higher diversity and connectivity have been associated with higher performing networks in public health areas.

The most diverse and cohesive network structures were in obesity/chronic disease, tobacco control, and infant mortality. Core local funding networks had lower levels of diversity and cohesiveness. Nonprofits and government agencies made up the largest proportions of the networks; for-profits and foundations made up the smallest.

“Policy development is one of the most effective tools public health has to modify the urban environment and protect and promote population health,” wrote the study’s lead author, Dr. Jenine K. Harris, Associate Professor at the Brown School.  “Opportunities exist to strengthen the networks to support local policy efforts.”

The paper was published April 25 in the Journal of Public Health Management Practice.

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