Strengthening complex systems for chronic disease prevention: A systematic review

Lori Baugh Littlejohns, Andrew Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Background: While frameworks exist for strengthening health care systems and public health systems, there are no practical frameworks to describe, assess and strengthen systems for chronic disease prevention (CDP) using complex systems approaches. Methods: A systematic and integrative review of peer reviewed literature was conducted to answer the following questions: How can systems for CDP be defined? What are key attributes of effective systems? How are complex systems approaches discussed? Search terms were identified and the Medline, SCOPUS, and Global Health databases were searched December 2017 and January 2018. Reference lists and selected journals were hand searched. A working definition for a system for CDP was developed to provide a guideline for inclusion. Key exclusion criteria were literature did not address the research questions or working definition; was published in a language other than English and before 2000; focused on specific chronic diseases and/or risk factors and not CDP broadly; concentrated on the health care sector and clinical services and/or health status and surveillance data; and described evaluations of setting specific actions such as policies, programs, interventions, approaches, projects, laws, or regulations. Selected literature (n = 141) was coded in terms of the extent to which the research questions and the working definition of systems for CDP were addressed. Data was then analysed and synthesized to determine key themes. Results: A revised definition of systems for CDP and seven attributes of effective systems for CDP are reported (collaborative capacity, health equity paradigm, leadership and governance, resources, implementation of desired actions, information and complex systems paradigm). A framework was developed to provide a foundation for describing, assessing and strengthening systems for CDP. Conclusions: The results of this literature review provide a strong foundation for a framework to help strengthen systems for CDP. The framework consolidates not only well-established attributes of effective CDP but also highlights theoretical and practical insights from complex systems perspectives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number729
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes

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  • Chronic disease
  • Complex systems
  • Framework
  • Prevention


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