BackgroundPublic health research often focuses on gender differences within certain diagnoses, but so far research has failed to explain these differences in a satisfactory way. Theoretical development could be one prerequisite for moving beyond categorical thinking. The aim of this paper was to analyse how gender theories have been used in public health research in relation to various methodological approaches.MethodSix special issues of gender research with public health relevance (comprising 33 papers in total) were identified from a search of PubMed and Web of Science, spanning a 10-year period. The papers were analysed inductively through posing questions to the text.ResultsGender theories were used in eight different ways: 1. to test hypotheses, 2. integrate theories, 3. develop gender concepts and models, 4. interpret findings, 5. understand health problems, 6. illustrate the validity of other theories, 7. integrated into a gender blind theory, as well as to 8. critique of other gender theories. The strategies applied seemed independent of the health aspects of the papers. However, the methodologies were of importance, indicating that both theoretical papers and papers using qualitative methodologies used almost all available strategies, while papers using quantitative empirical research used a limited number of strategies.ConclusionsThis study contributes to identifying how gender theories are used in contemporary public health research, which can help researchers move beyond a categorical understanding of gender in health research.