To what extent do Australian child and youth health policies address the social determinants of health and health equity?: a document analysis study
MacDougall, Colin James
Newman, Lareen Ann
McDermott, Dennis Roy
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Background There is a significant body of evidence that highlights the importance of addressing the social determinants of child and youth health. In order to tackle health inequities Australian governments are being called upon to take action in this area at a policy level. Recent research suggests that the health and well-being of children and youth in Australia is ‘middle of the road’ when compared to other OECD countries. To date, there have been no systematic analyses of Australian child/youth health policies with a social determinants and health equity focus and this study aimed to contribute to addressing this gap. Methods Document analysis of seventeen strategic level child/youth health policies across Australia used an a priori coding framework specifically developed to assess the extent to which health departments address the social determinants of child/youth health and health equity. Policies were selected from a review of all federal and state/territory strategic health department policies dated between 2008 and 2013. They were included if the title of the policy addressed children, youth, paediatric health or families directly. We also included whole of government policies that addressed child/youth health issues and linked to the health department, and health promotion policies with a chapter or extensive section dedicated to children. Results Australian child/youth health policies address health inequities to some extent, with the best examples in Aboriginal or child protection policies, and whole of government policies. However, action on the social determinants of child/youth health was limited. Whilst all policies acknowledge the SDH, strategies were predominantly about improving health services delivery or access to health services. With some exceptions, the policies that appeared to address important SDH, such as early childhood development and healthy settings, often took a narrow view of the evidence and drifted back to focus on the individual. Conclusions This research highlights that policy action on the social determinants of child/youth health in Australia is limited and that a more balanced approach to reducing health inequities is needed, moving away from a dominant medical or behavioural approach, to address the structural determinants of child/youth health.