PHIRN: Population Health Improvement Research Network

Exploring which context matters in the study of health inequities and their mitigation

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Nancy Edwards1,2 & Erica Di Ruggiero2

1Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Nursing, Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and 2Institute of Population and Public Health, Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, March 2011; 39(Suppl 6): 43–49

Available online at:


This commentary argues that contextual influences on health inequities need to be more thoroughly interrogated in future studies of population health interventions.


Case examples were chosen to illustrate several aspects of context: its historical, global, and dynamic nature; its multidimensional character; and its macro- and micro-level influences. These criteria were selected based on findings from an extensive literature review undertaken for the Public Health Agency of Canada and from two invitational symposia on multiple intervention programmes, one with a focus on equity, the other with a focus on context.


Contextual influences are pervasive yet specific, and diffuse yet structurally embedded. Historical contexts that have produced inequities have contemporary influences. The global forces of context cross jurisdictional boundaries. A complex set of social actors intersect with socio-political structures to dynamically co-create contextual influences.


These contextual influences raise critical challenges for the field of population health intervention research. These challenges must be addressed if we are going to succeed in the calls for action to reduce health inequities. Implications for future public health research and research-funding agencies must be carefully considered.


Source: PAHO/WHO

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