Research Grants on Public Health and Law Announced

Fifteen new studies will assess how legal approaches affect population health.

    • December 6, 2009

The Public Health Law Research Program (PHLR) of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) today announced 15 new research grants that will help policy-makers and researchers understand how laws can affect public health.

PHLR is based at Temple University’s Center for Health, Law, Policy and Practice. The program funds legal analysis and research to learn about the health impacts of specific laws and regulations. PHLR Director Scott Burris, JD, said, “We know that clean indoor air laws protect people from second-hand smoke and that laws prohibiting lead-based paint reduce lead poisoning. Research that shows what works helps policymakers choose the most effective strategies for promoting public health.” Burris is a professor of law at Temple’s Beasley School of Law.

The new studies address a wide range of health threats and legal responses, including:

  • effective legal decision-making during public health emergencies
  • impact of reproductive health regulations on sexually transmitted diseases
  • the effect of pharmaceutical regulation on the development of antibiotic resistance
  • how zoning laws influence violent crime and health, and
  • the impact of exemption clauses in mandatory immunization laws on rates of vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Policy-makers need to know the public health consequences of the laws they enact,” said Michelle Larkin, JD, MPH, public health team director and senior program officer at RWJF. “By funding research that brings together legal and public health scholars we have a better understanding of how laws can improve health. Some of the studies we are funding are national in scope; others are based on specific state or local laws. We hope the results of the state and local studies will inform lawmakers in other parts of the country.”

The grants announced today total $2,640,605. They include short-term studies of specific laws or regulations, funded up to $150,000 for 18 months, long-term evaluations, funded up to $400,000 for 30 months, and one rapid response study funded at $100,000.

The rapid-response study, to be conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia School of Law, will examine implementation of the changes to the Virginia Health Care Decisions Act.

Enacted in July 2009, two years after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech University, the revisions to the Virginia law are intended to improve treatment of people with severe mental illnesses. The law allows individuals to provide future direction for their mental health care if later they are incapable of making their own health care decisions. Use of these advance directives is expected to improve health outcomes and reduce the occurrence of mental health emergencies and the costs of responding to them. The study will produce recommendations for implementing the law most effectively.

Today’s announcement coincides with the launch of PHLR’s new website, at

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.

The Temple University Center for Health Policy, Law and Practice examines critical legal issues in public health and healthcare through interdisciplinary research projects, courses and problem-solving partnerships with academics and community leaders both locally and internationally.

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Podcast With Scott Burris

Listen to Scott Burris, director of the public health law program at Temple University, discuss public health law and a new website launched by the program.

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