Background There is increasing pressure to tackle the wider social determinants of health through the implementation of appropriate interventions. However, turning these demands for better evidence about interventions around the social determinants of health into action requires identifying what we already know and highlighting areas for further development. Methods Systematic review methodology was used to identify systematic reviews (from 2000 to 2007, developed countries only) that described the health effects of any intervention based on the wider social determinants of health: water and sanitation, agriculture and food, access to health and social care services, unemployment and welfare, working conditions, housing and living environment, education, and transport. Results Thirty systematic reviews were identified. Generally, the effects of interventions on health inequalities were unclear. However, there is suggestive systematic review evidence that certain categories of intervention may impact positively on inequalities or on the health of specific disadvantaged groups, particularly interventions in the fields of housing and the work environment. Conclusion Intervention studies that address inequalities in health are a priority area for future public health research.