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Open Access Debate

The opportunities for and obstacles against prevention: the example of Germany in the areas of tobacco and alcohol

Ulla Walter1, Marc Suhrcke2, Miriam G Gerlich1 and Till A Boluarte345*

Author Affiliations

1 Hannover Medical School, Institute of Epidemiology, Social Medicine and Health System Research, Germany

2 University of East Anglia, School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice, Norwich, UK

3 London School of Economics and Political Science, UK

4 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK

5 University of Witten/Herdecke, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:500  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-500

Published: 19 August 2010



Recent years have seen a growing research and policy interest in prevention in many developed countries. However, the actual efforts and resources devoted to prevention appear to have lagged well behind the lip service paid to the topic.


We review the evidence on the considerable existing scope for health gains from prevention as well as for greater prevention policy efforts in Germany. We also discuss the barriers to "more and better" prevention and provide modest suggestions about how some of the obstacles could be overcome.


In Germany, there are substantial health gains to be reaped from the implementation of evidence-based, cost-effective preventive interventions and policies. Barriers to more prevention include social, historical, political, legal and economic factors. While there is sufficient evidence to scale up prevention efforts in some public health domains in Germany, in general there is a comparative shortage of research on non-clinical preventive interventions. Some of the existing barriers in Germany are at least in principle amenable to change, provided sufficient political will exists. More research on prevention by itself is no panacea, but could help facilitate more policy action. In particular, there is an economic efficiency-based case for public funding and promotion of research on non-clinical preventive interventions, in Germany and beyond, to confront the peculiar challenges that set this research apart from its clinical counterpart.