The social value of investing in public health across the life course: a systematic scoping review

Kathryn Ashton*, Peter Schroeder-Baeck, Timo Clemens, Mariana Dyakova, Anna Stielke, Mark A. Bellis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review

9 Citations (Web of Science)


BackgroundMaking the case for investing in public health by illustrating the social, economic and environmental value of public health interventions is imperative. Economic methodologies to help capture the social value of public health interventions such as Social Return on Investment (SROI) and Social Cost-Benefit Analysis (SCBA) have been developed over past decades. The life course approach in public health reinforces the importance of investment to ensure a good start in life to safeguarding a safe, healthy and active older age. This novel review maps an overview of the application of SROI and SCBA in the existing literature to identify the social value of public health interventions at individual stages of the life course.MethodsA systematic scoping review was conducted on peer-reviewed and grey literature to identify SROI and SCBA studies of public health interventions published between January 1996 and June 2019. All primary research articles published in the English language from high-income countries that presented SROI and SCBA outputs were included. Studies were mapped into stages of the life course, and data on the characteristics of the studies were extracted to help understand the application of social value methodology to assess the value of public health interventions.ResultsOverall 40 SROI studies were included in the final data extraction, of which 37 were published in the grey literature. No SCBA studies were identified in the search. Evidence was detected at each stage of the life course which included; the birth, neonatal period, postnatal period and infancy (n=2); childhood and adolescence (n=17); adulthood (main employment and reproductive years) (n=8); and older adulthood (n=6). In addition, 7 studies were identified as cross-cutting across the life course in their aims.ConclusionThis review contributes to the growing evidence base that demonstrates the use of social value methodologies within the field of public health. By mapping evidence across stages of the life course, this study can be used as a starting point by public health professionals and institutions to take forward current thinking about moving away from traditional economic measures, to capturing social value when investing in interventions across the life course.

Original languageEnglish
Article number597
Number of pages18
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • Social value
  • Public health
  • Social return on investment
  • social cost-benefit analysis
  • life course
  • SROI

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