DOI: 10.1111/cdoe.12931 ISSN: 0301-5661

A scoping study on the social determinants of health and sugar consumption in the context of policy approaches for improving population health

Bettina Zenz, Peter Jackson, Rahul Naidu, Barry Gibson
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • General Dentistry



To conduct a scoping review of existing research on the social determinants of health, sugar consumption and public health policy responses to address or improve health outcomes.


A total of 13 categories were developed to reflect the authors' interest in the overall focus on the social determinants of health, sugar as an independent risk factor, upstream policy action (‘whole populations’), downstream policy action (‘targeted’) and two contemporary policy strategies (namely ‘Vulnerable populations’ and ‘Proportionate Universalism’). The search strategy was then performed on MEDLINE (via Ovid) and Web of Science, and was limited to the English language. No time limits prior to when the database search was conducted in 2022 were set to explore the full extent of the literature in this field.


Five hundred and sixty articles were retrieved, of which 181 met the criteria for review. When all categories were applied, the findings showed that 76% of papers focusing on sugar consumption as a risk factor for non‐communicable diseases (NCDs) mentioned the social determinants of health. The majority of studies (60%) recommended downstream interventions, with 40% recommending ‘upstream’ interventions.

A limited proportion (12%) of research work was published in dental journals. Research had been done using predominantly quantitative methods (66% of articles), with 24% of studies adopting a mixed methods approach, and 8% being exclusively qualitative. Research on contemporary strategies for sugar reduction were focused on the ‘Global North’ and 98% of papers used individual level data focused on targeted approaches, highlighting that there is little direct evidence for contemporary strategies aimed at reducing sugar consumption.


Whilst the majority of public and dental health research argues that there is a need to address the social determinants of health, the findings from this study highlight that very few empirical studies have been designed to directly inform contemporary strategies for sugar reduction. More research is therefore needed that can directly assess the evidence for contemporary strategies in public health policy.

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