Health policy defines health goals at the international, national or local level and specifies the decisions, plans and actions to be undertaken to achieve these goals. An explicit health policy can achieve several things: it clarifies the values on which a policy is based; it defines a vision for the future, which in turn helps to establish objectives and the priorities among them; and it facilitates setting targets and milestones for the short and medium term. This can clarify the challenges to be faced, why these challenges need to be tackled and feasible and effective ways of doing this. Consensus can then be strengthened, and various groups can understand what might be their expected role in implementing the policy.
Public health policies are developed through highly complex processes that involve different levels of government and numerous stakeholders with diverse needs and interests. Understanding this process can help policy-makers in achieving their health targets.
Healthy public policy is a key component of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. The concept includes policies designed specifically to promote health (such as banning cigarette advertising) and policies not dealing directly with health but acknowledged to affect health (including policies in such sectors as transport, education and economics).