Video Abstract: Authors Discuss Federal Funding of Public Health Law Evaluation in New Study in The Journal of Public Health Management & Practice

Jennifer Ibrahim, PhD

The Journal of Public Health Management & Practice sat down with Jennifer Ibrahim, PhD, the lead author of “Supporting a Culture of Evidence-Based Policy: Federal Funding for Public Health Law Evaluation Research, 1985-2014.” In their new study, Dr. Ibrahim, along with colleagues at Temple University Scott Burris, JD, and Heidi Grunwald, PhD, and Aaron Sorensen, MS at UberResearch, assessed trends in NIH funding for scientific public health law research.

Read the interview with Dr. Ibrahim and then view the full conversation between Ibrahim and Burris in the video below.

What question(s) were you attempting to answer in this study?

Health policies and laws can be some of the most cost-effective ways to improve the public’s health. But whenever we introduce a solution, or intervention, it’s important to know if it is having an impact, and if so, is it what was intended or did the legal intervention misfire and lead to unintended consequences? It is important to have an evidence base to understand what works and does not work, and why. We know that timely, rigorous evaluations of how laws influence health can shape policy and are key to generating that evidence base. In this study, we wanted to know the extent to which our nation’s leading funder of health research — the National Institutes of Health — supports this kind of work. In addition, we wanted to better understand what health topic areas of research are being funded and by which agencies and the change over time.

Why was it important to know how the federal government has funded PHLR and legal epi?

We like to compare laws passed in an attempt to examine improvements in health, similar to the way we test pharmaceuticals. We rigorously test drugs for safety and efficacy before they ever reach a patient, but we often don’t even investigate the effects of legal treatments that reach millions. This disconnect means that legislators and health officials could be subjecting the population to ineffective legal interventions, so when we think we are addressing a problem, it may not be the case. Systematic evaluations are essential to advancing sound public health policy and legal interventions, not only to understand the magnitude of effect but also the mechanism by which the effect occurs.

What surprised you in doing this research?

If there was a surprise in this study, it was that the amount of funding allocated to evaluating public health laws was only 0.25% of the NIH grant-making budget. It was good to see the success of some institutes in supporting rigorous and impactful public health law research, in areas like tobacco control and alcohol and drug abuse, but surprising that it has not “rubbed off” more. Legislators at the federal and state level pass hundreds of health laws every session on topics that cut across everything NIH cares about, yet public health law research gets just a fraction of funding.

Authors Scott Burris and Jennifer Ibrahim discuss federal funding for public health law evaluation research in the video below.