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Law for Health Hub: Legal Epidemiology

A recent cancer map of the Netherlands demonstrates regional differences in the spread of cancer prevalence: lung cancer prevails mostly in low-income areas and there is a higher prevalence of cancers caused by asbestos exposure around polluting factories. This example emphasises societal impact on human health. Based on this knowledge, the question arises how laws can optimally regulate the living environment and thereby contribute to the protection of the health of persons.

Laws can encourage behaviour beneficial to health or discourage behaviour that can have adverse effects to health by creating incentives and deterrents. In this regard, one could think of laws banning tobacco consumption in public places, laws prescribing the use of seatbelts and food labelling requirements. As laws shape the environment and regulate human behaviour, a broad spectrum of laws can have an impact on health: as aimed health interventions, laws arranging health infrastructures and laws incidentally affecting health.

Legal epidemiology can be used to study the role of law in health protection and promotion. It is defined as 'the scientific study and deployment of law as a factor in the cause, distribution, and prevention of disease and injury in a population', and studies law as a tool to promote health. In other words, it studies systemic health interventions' effect on public health.  This practice of public health research is currently growing in popularity, given the increasing scientific consensus that the incidence of diseases does not only depend on genetic factors, but is also affected by societal and behavioural factors, including our living environment. By mapping, assessing, and analysing existing and prospective legal measures, researchers can evaluate their effectiveness in protecting public health.

The Groningen Centre for Health Law, in close cooperation with the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health, aims to be at the core of the developments and is setting up a Law for Health Hub. By doing so, it aims to serve as a platform to foster and initiate collaboration within the University of Groningen and beyond. Recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, the initiative includes the efforts of legal scholars and human rights law specialists, epidemiologists and medical doctors, at different levels of seniority, ranging from full professors to students.

Researchers in this group cooperate on several multidisciplinary questions related to the role of law in health protection and promotion. One of the research projects, for instance, focuses on the effect of the implementation of the World Health Organization's Breast Milk Substitute code in some countries on the development of children. Another project assesses the role of law and regulation of behavioural risk factors, such as sugars consumption, on the protection and maintenance of child oral health.

The interdisciplinary core group includes Dr. Regien Biesma (UMCG), Prof. Erik Buskens (UMCG), Dr. Karine van 't Land (Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health), Juliana Lima Constantino, MD (UMCG), Dominique Mollet, LLM (Faculty of Law), Stefan Pichler, PhD (Faculty of Economics and Business), Prof. Brigit Toebes (Faculty of Law and Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health) and Caitlin Weyhenke, LLM (Lifelines).

Last modified:22 August 2023 10.07 a.m.