Effecting policy change is a key strategy in tackling wider determinants of health. In England, public health sits within Local Authorities (LAs) and responsibility for ensuring health is considered across directorates increasingly falls to public health practitioners. While international professional standards expect competence in understanding policy processes, the advocacy role has been under-explored. This paper explores the professional skills, role characteristics and learning needs of practitioners advocating for the restriction of advertising high-fat, salt and sugar products in a region of England. A series of three interviews were conducted at three time points over 10 months with policy advocates leading this policy change from four LAs. Three focus groups were also held with 12 public health advocates from 10 LAs at the end of the 10-month period of data collection. Data were transcribed and analysed retroductively. Data showed that practitioners felt inexperienced as policy advocates and saw this work as different from other public health approaches. Successful advocates required interpersonal skills, knowledge of policy-making and local governance, determination, resilience, confidence, belief in their work’s value and leadership. These skills were difficult to acquire through formal education, but advocacy training, mentorship and role modelling were seen as important for professional development. To successfully implement a Health in all Policies approach and address wider determinants of health, public health practitioners need to be equipped and supported as policy advocates. The advocacy role and the complex skills required need to be more fully understood by the public health profession and prioritized within workforce development at both local and national levels.

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