Background: There is growing interest by funding bodies and researchers in assessing the impact of research on real world policy and practice. Population health monitoring surveys provide an important source of data on the prevalence and patterns of health problems, but few empirical studies have explored if and how such data is used to influence policy or practice decisions. Here we provide a case study analysis of how the findings from an Australian population monitoring survey series of children's weight and weight-related behaviors (Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS)) have been used, and the key facilitators and barriers to their utilization.Methods: Data collection included semi-structured interviews with the chief investigators (n = 3) and end-users (n = 9) of SPANS data to explore if, how and under what circumstances the survey findings had been used, bibliometric analysis and verification using documentary evidence. Data analysis involved thematic coding of interview data and triangulation with other data sources to produce case summaries of policy and practice impacts for each of the three survey years (1997, 2004, 2010). Case summaries were then reviewed and discussed by the authors to distil key themes on if, how and why the SPANS findings had been used to guide policy and practice.Results: We found that the survey findings were used for agenda setting (raising awareness of issues), identifying areas and target groups for interventions, informing new policies, and supporting and justifying existing policies and programs across a range of sectors. Reported factors influencing use of the findings were: i) the perceived credibility of survey findings; ii) dissemination strategies used; and, iii) a range of contextual factors.Conclusions: Using a novel approach, our case study provides important new insights into how and under what circumstances population health monitoring data can be used to influence real world policy and practice. The findings highlight the importance of population monitoring programs being conducted by independent credible agencies, researchers engaging end-users from the inception of survey programs and utilizing existing policy networks and structures, and using a range of strategies to disseminate the findings that go beyond traditional peer review publications.
- Population health