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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Use of research evidence in state health policymaking: Menu labeling policy in California.

  • Author(s): Payán, Denise D
  • Lewis, LaVonna B
  • et al.

Addressing the translational gap between research evidence and state health policy requires an understanding of the current use of research evidence in the state policymaking process. In this study, we explore the use of research evidence to inform the legislative debate about restaurant nutrition labeling policy in California. In 2008, California was the first state to enact a mandatory menu calorie labeling policy in the U.S. Using a qualitative approach, we examine data sources and types of evidence used in legislative documents (n = 87) related to six menu labeling bills introduced in California's state legislature between 2003 and 2008. Federal- and state-level government agency reports were the most frequently cited sources of technical knowledge. Advocacy coalition members who were active participants involved in the policy debate were also cited as experts. Five of the six bills included evidence in related legislative documents. While documents included considerable evidence on the magnitude and severity of the obesity problem to justify policy enactment, there were a limited number of statements referring to policy effectiveness and only one statement identified attesting to implementation context and acceptability. Reference to evidence on related policy suggests policy precedence may also play an important role in policy decision making. There is a need to improve the dissemination of obesity policy effectiveness and implementation studies in a politically time sensitive manner to influence state health policy debates. Strategies are discussed to effectively integrate the use of research evidence in the state health policymaking process.

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