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Supporting a Culture of Evidence-Based Policy: Federal Funding for Public Health Law Evaluation Research, 1985-2014

Ibrahim, Jennifer K. PhD, MPH; Sorensen, Aaron A. MS; Grunwald, Heidi PhD; Burris, Scott JD

Journal of Public Health Management & Practice: November/December 2017 - Volume 23 - Issue 6 - p 658–666
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000598
Research Reports: Research Full Report

Objective: Law powerfully influences health and can be a critical tool for promoting population well-being. Evaluation research is needed to measure the health effects of law and guide policy making and implementation. The purpose of this study was to assess trends in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for scientific public health law research (PHLR).

Methods: Using data from the UberResearch NIH grant repository, we collected and coded all grants with a focus on health law between FY'85 and FY'14 and then analyzed the grants by funding agency and topic areas.

Results: Between FY'85 and FY'14, NIH funded 510 research grants on health policy making, the health effects of laws or enforcement practices. On average, 4 PHLR grants were funded annually with a median total funding of $545 956 (range: $2535-$44 052 300) and a median annual funding of $205 223 (range: $2535-$7 019 517).

Conclusions: National Institutes of Health has supported important PHLR but not nearly to the extent necessary to ensure that public health laws affecting the population are evaluated in a rigorous and timely manner. In addition to greater funding evaluation research, NIH can increase its support for creating legal datasets, fund training in PHLR, and work with the National Library of Medicine to create Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terms related to PHLR.

Center for Public Health Law Research, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Drs Ibrahim and Grunwald, and Mr Burris); and UberResearch, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Mr Sorensen).

Correspondence: Scott Burris, JD, Center for Public Health Law Research, Temple University, 1719 N. Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19122 (

The study was funded by the Public Health Law Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors, not the Foundation.

Scott Burris and Heidi Grunwald are founders of Legal Science, LLC, a company that provides software and legal services for policy surveillance, including the Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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