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Health assets in a global context: a systematic review of the literature
  1. Tine Van Bortel1,2,
  2. Nuwan Darshana Wickramasinghe2,3,
  3. Antony Morgan4,
  4. Steven Martin1,2
  1. 1 Institute for Health and Human Development, University of East London, London, UK
  2. 2 Cambridge Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3 Department of Community Medicine, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Saliyapura, Sri Lanka
  4. 4 Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health, Glasgow Caledonian University, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tine Van Bortel; tv250{at}


Objective To provide an up-to-date overview of health assets in a global context both from a theoretical perspective and its practical applications to address health inequalities and achieve sustainable health.

Design A systematic review was conducted according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines.

Data sources A comprehensive search, including 10 electronic bibliographic databases and hand searches, was undertaken to capture the wide range of terms associated with ‘health assets’ and ‘asset-based approaches to health’.

Eligibility criteria Any peer-reviewed published and grey literature in English related to ‘health assets’ or ‘assets’ in a ‘health’ context was included without any date, country or study design restrictions and the quality of evidence was appraised according to the Oxford Level of Evidence.

Outcomes A broad consideration of all outcome measures including clinical outcomes, patient-level, community-level and population-level impacts and costs, was adopted.

Results 478 publications were included. Health assets were researched in 40 countries, predominantly in the West such as the USA and the UK. A number of broad health assets were identified including community and individual assets. Even though research was conducted in a number of different settings, most occurred in the community, clinical, care or educational settings. A wide variety of interventions and approaches were implemented, most commonly related to education and/or training, asset mapping or asset approaches.

Conclusions Globally, authors most often referred to general ‘health assets’, ‘assets’ or some form of ‘community asset’ in relation to health. Overall, the idea of health assets is framed within a positive paradigm focusing on health creation rather than curative approaches. The sustained credibility of the global ‘health assets’ literature depends on future research on definitional, theoretical and evaluative issues in order to convince policy-makers and service commissioners of its necessity and added value to the traditional deficit approach.

  • health asset
  • asset-based approach
  • health promotion
  • positive health
  • systematic review

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Contributors TVB conceptualised, supervised, quality-controlled, co-wrote and edited the paper; NDW and SM were the two lead researchers and coauthors of this paper; AM advised, co-wrote and edited the various versions of this paper. TVB and NDW are joint first author and contributed equally to the paper.

  • Funding This study was funded by the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, the Institute for Health and Human Development at the University of East London, Glasgow Caledonian University, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka and the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No unpublished data are available following this review.

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