Making the case for laws that improve health: A framework for public health law research

Scott Burris, Alexander C. Wagenaar, Jeffrey Swanson, Jennifer K. Ibrahim, Jennifer Wood, Michelle M. Mello

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Context: Public health law has received considerable attention in recent years and has become an essential field in public health. Public health law research, however, has received less attention. Methods: Expert commentary. Findings: This article explores public health law research, defined as the scientific study of the relation of law and legal practices to population health. The article offers a logic model of public health law research and a typology of approaches to studying the effects of law on public health. Research on the content and prevalence of public health laws, processes of adopting and implementing laws, and the extent to which and mechanisms through which law affects health outcomes can use methods drawn from epidemiology, economics, sociology, and other disciplines. The maturation of public health law research as a field depends on methodological rigor, adequate research funding, access to appropriate data sources, and policymakers' use of research findings. Conclusions: Public health law research is a young field but holds great promise for supporting evidence-based policymaking that will improve population health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-210
Number of pages42
JournalMilbank Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Law
  • Legal
  • Public health
  • Research
  • Scholarship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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