What needs to happen to ‘level up’ public health?

Sarah A Ayres*, Andrew F R Barnfield, Geoff Bates, Anna Le Gouais, Nick Pearce

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this article is to examine what needs to happen in central, sub-regional and local government to ‘level up’ public health in the United Kingdom (UK). The Government's recent Levelling Up White Paper outlined ambitious targets for reducing regional disparities, including a ‘mission’ to tackle inequalities in healthy life expectancy and reduce inequalities in the social determinants of health outcomes. However, the approach has been criticised for failing to integrate population health policy objectives, programmes and interventions into the implementation of the levelling up agenda and its associated ‘missions’. Drawing on a case study of promoting healthy urban development in the UK, we examine how the wider determinants of health might be incorporated into the Government's levelling up strategy. Based on in-depth interviews with 132 urban development actors, our findings reveal that long-term investment in healthy urban development could play a key role in levelling up public health but is not currently part of the Government's plans. We make a timely contribution to the levelling up debate by placing public health centre stage in social science debates. We conclude by offering a series of recommendations for transformative policy change to level up health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)500-526
Number of pages27
JournalContemporary Social Science
Issue number3-4
Early online date10 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research emanates from the project, ‘Tackling the root causes upstream of unhealthy urban development’ (TRUUD), 2019–2024, £6.7 m. This work is supported by the UK Prevention Research Partnership, under Grant MR/S037586/1, which is funded by the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Welsh Government), Medical Research Council, National Institute for Health Research, Natural Environment Research Council, Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), The Health Foundation and Wellcome. The authors would like to thank members of the TRUUD research team for their support in the development of this study and contributions to data collection and analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


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