Essential Nexus

How to Use Research to Inform and Evaluate Public Policy

This commentary by Larry Morandi focuses on increasing collaboration between policy-makers and health researchers. The author identifies two key problems in translating active living research into effective policies: (1) collaboration across the numerous jurisdictions (transportation, environment, health, education and others) that create policy related to active living; and (2) the need to demonstrate that health is a stakeholder in realms traditionally considered to be outside the health arena.

Another key step in health promotion is designing research projects that demonstrate connections between specific policies and public health benefits. Research projects related to neighborhood design and walkability provide examples where this has been done successfully. Health impact assessments—defined as "a combination of procedures, methods, and tools by which a (program's) potential effects on the health of a population" are judged—may also prove useful tools in furthering the process of using research to inform policy. 

Although active living research has been at the forefront of attempts to synthesize policy goals and research efforts, those involved in the field must continue to prioritize these issues. Steps to involve state legislators and policy-makers at city, county and neighborhood levels are important, and should be continued. Building collaboration among policy sectors themselves, and between researchers and policy-makers, is crucial to the success of efforts to increase physical activity on a population level.