American Public Health Association
800 I Street, NW • Washington, DC 20001-3710
(202) 777-APHA • Fax: (202) 777-2534 •

Case Studies

Improving Community Health through Policy  (May 2013)

young girl eating watermelonPolicy is a cornerstone of public health practice. Few public health interventions can affect people's health so broadly and with such impact as policy. As communities band together to solve serious health problems, evidence-based public health policy is a critical element in creating the opportunities and conditions that afford good health and wellbeing for all.

In an effort to better understand how state, local and tribal public health agencies effectively use policy approaches for health improvement, case studies were developed with cooperation of 10 health departments. In addition, a summary report provides an overview of the themes that were common across discussions with health department staff and partners.

Below are descriptions of the 10 health department case studies.


Health Department


Turning up the HEAT for Equity (pdf)


Bernalillo County Office of Environmental Health (New Mexico)

Describes how the Bernalillo County Place Matters team uses the Health Equity Assessment Tool (HEAT) to map health and environmental data on the census tract level to support potential policies related to environmental justice.

Slides and recordings from a webinar featuring the HEAT tool can be found here

Engaging Partners, Utilizing Health Educators and Establishing a Public Health Code in Cherokee Nation (pdf)


Cherokee Nation Health Services (Oklahoma)

Details the Cherokee Nation Health Services' approach to policy work by identifying priorities, determining which policies might be most effective and tracking progress toward policy goals.

Expanding Capacity, Coordinating Efforts (pdf)


Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Examines how the Prevention Services Division’s Office of Policy and Fiscal Analysis used a department wide reorganization as an opportunity to zero in on coordinating policy initiatives and training.

Empowering Community Groups to Affect Public Health Policy Change (pdf)


Ingham County Health Department (Michigan)

Describes how the health department encourages community members to engage as neigh­borhood groups in the city of Lansing and other parts of Ingham County, Michigan, to identify local priorities and engage in efforts related to land use, complete streets and smoking, among others.

Building a Community Partnership to Increase Policy Capacity: The Health Action Partnership (pdf)


Jefferson County Department of Health (Alabama)

Summarizes the health department’s role in supporting the Health Action Partnership, a coalition of more than 100 organizations addressing a variety of health goals, including stronger protections from second-hand smoke.

Breaking with Tradition and Embracing a New Model (pdf)

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (California)

Details the framework executed by the Los Angeles Tobacco Control and Prevention Program uses a framework with five steps to guide its efforts to put in place municipal tobacco policies.

Slides and recordings from a webinar on the framework model can be found here

Using Data to Inform Public Health Policy (pdf)


Massachusetts Department of Health, Bureau of Environmental Health

Describes the work of the Massachusetts Environmental Public Health Tracking Program in providing data on environmental and health measures and creating opportunities for stakeholders to examine the links between disease and environmental exposures at the state, county and community levels.

Slides and recordings from a webinar featuring the Massachusetts tracking program can be found here

Keys to Success of a Long-Term Task Force (pdf)


North Carolina Division of Public Health


Details the work of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force, which has been working for more than two decades to prevent child deaths. Staffed by the North Carolina Division of Public Health, the task force addresses a broad range of policy issues, including car safety, breastfeeding and child welfare system improvements.

Policy: An Effective Public Health Intervention (pdf)


Oregon Health Authority, Public Health Division

Describes the Public Health Division’s approach to policy development and implementation and highlights successful policy efforts in tobacco control.

Seattle & King County: A “Fair and Just” Frame (pdf)


Public Health – Seattle & King County (Washington)

Chronicles the development of the Social Justice and Equity Initiative developed and how policy strategies were used to create a county-wide focus on equity.