Introduction To maximise health gain with constrained health sector resources, it is necessary to identify the highest priority risk factor areas for studying preventive interventions. We aimed to develop a process for prioritising such risk factors for further research, in the New Zealand setting.
Methods Using WHO data for high-income countries in the Western Pacific Region, the burden of disease in disability-adjusted life years associated with leading risk factors was used as a starting point. Subsequent prioritising steps included: the existence of effective and (likely) cost-effective preventive interventions for each risk factor, and the contribution of the risk factor to health inequalities.
Results The top six major risk factors identified were: tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, alcohol use, overweight/obesity and physical inactivity. All of these six risk factors contribute to ethnic health inequalities (Maori vs non-Maori). They are also all relevant to reducing the health burden for children/youth and older adults, and four were relevant to reducing health inequalities for socio-economically deprived New Zealanders. For all of the top six risk factor areas there are published studies indicating that one or more preventive interventions are cost-saving (to the health sector or society).
Conclusions This process identified risk factor areas associated with high health burden and which are amenable to cost-effective preventive interventions. Our next step is to work with stakeholders to select the range of interventions within each risk factor area that are of most interest for cost-effectiveness analysis.