The emergence of the social determinants of health on the policy agenda in Britain: A case study, 1980–2003

Lauri Andress, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Numerous theories have been advanced in the effort to explain how a given policy issue manages to take root in the public sphere and subsequently move forward on the public legislative agenda—or not. This study examined how the social determinants of health (SDOH) came to be part of the legislative policy agenda in Britain from 1980 to 2003. The specific objectives of the research were: (1) to conduct a sociopolitical analysis grounded in alternative agenda-setting theories to identify the factors responsible for moving the social determinants health perspective onto the British policy agenda; and (2) to determine which of the theories and related dimensions best accounted for the emergence of this perspective. A triangulated content and context analysis of British news articles, historical accounts, and research commentaries of the SDOH movement was conducted guided by relevant agenda-setting theories set within a social movement framework to chronicle the emergence of the SDOH as a significant policy issue in Britain. The most influential social movement and agenda setting elements in the emergence of the SDOH in Britain were issue generation tactics, framing efforts, mobilizing structures, and political opportunities grounded in social movement and agenda setting theories. Policy content or the details of the policy had comparatively little impact on the successful emergence of the SDOH. Despite resistance by the government, from 1980 to 1996 interest groups created a political understanding of the SDOH utilizing a framing package encompassing notions of inequality, fairness, and justice. This frame transmitted a powerful idea connected to a core set of British values and beliefs. After 1996, a shift in political opportunities cemented the institutional arrangements needed to sustain an environment conducive to the development and implementation of SDOH policies and programs. This research demonstrates that the U.S. emergence of the SDOH on the policy agenda will depend upon: (1) U.S. ideals and values regarding poverty, inequality, race, health, and health care that will determine issue framing; (2) political opportunities that will emerge—or not—to advance the SDOH policy agenda; and (3) the mobilizing structures that support or oppose the issue.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

Andress, Lauri, "The emergence of the social determinants of health on the policy agenda in Britain: A case study, 1980–2003" (2006). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3258575.