The emerging field of legal epidemiology and its global potential for better health
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UK Faculty of Public Health, American Public Health Association (APHA), Philadelphia, United States
Temple University, Philadelphia, United States
Publication date: 2023-04-27
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A770
Background/Objectives: Legal Epidemiology (LE) is the scientific study of the health effects of laws and legal practices. In the past decade, it has gained a strong foothold in US public health, and is growing as a field globally. It builds on robust methods of policy surveillance to measure law, and a range of method for quasi-experimental evaluation prevailing in epidemiology, economics and other social sciences. LE provides useful tools for transdisciplinary research, but also a vocabulary and specific competencies that public health professionals can use to increase their comfort and effectiveness in engaging legal factors in their work. The objective of this presentation is to demonstrate the range and utility of LE for global public health. Methods: Review of prior research, existing competencies, available methods and tools, and effective applications of LE in policy development and advocacy. Results: LE research includes evaluation of: 1) the effects/side effects of "interventional" public health laws such as road safety or tobacco control laws; 2) the relationship of "infrastructural" health laws (establishing the powers and duties of health agencies) and health system effectiveness; and 3) "incidental" public health laws (the many laws that shape the social determinants of health, such as income support, anti-discrimination, tax, housing and education laws). All these areas are important, but law is a particularly potent and maleable tool for addressing social determinants. Clear method of legal measurement and the use of modern software and AI tools has improved "policy surveillance," the scientific tracking of laws of public health importance. The presentation will describe, a successful intervention using legal data to promote the spread of healthy policies in the largest US cities. Conclusions: Legal epidemiology provides a range of effective methods, tools and concepts for helping improve the use of law and legal change for better health globally.
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