Across economics, health, management and policy, researchers at the University of Bath are embarking on two important new projects looking at ways to improve the nation’s health.

The partnership, in collaboration with other universities and charities, aims to deliver real change that can help reduce the burden of diseases including obesity, cancer and diabetes on the health and social care systems, and enable people to live longer and healthier lives.

Bath researchers have been successful in attracting funding for two projects in the first ever round of funding from the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP). These are both aimed at tackling the social and environmental factors behind the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) - illness, such as heart disease or poor mental health that cannot be transmitted between people, yet place a significant strain on health services and on people’s lives.

The University’s inclusion in two of just four consortia established under the UKPRP programme will help to establish Bath as a centre for public health research in the UK.

Tackling unhealthy urban development

The work of Dr Alistair Hunt and Dr Eleonora Fichera (Department of Economics) with Dr Krista Bondy (School of Management) and Professor Nick Pearce (IPR) focuses on a project entitled ‘Tackling Root Causes Upstream of Unhealthy Urban Development’. This will consider how urban planning and development might be adapted in view of risk factors for NCDs.

As part of the work Dr Alistair Hunt and Dr Eleonora Fichera will lead the economic valuation of the NCDs, whilst Dr Krista Bondy from the School of Management and Professor Nick Pearce from the IPR will develop a detailed picture of the main components of the UK’s urban planning and development system. The work will involve extensive interviews across government and business, and it is hoped will have important impact in influencing future urban planning policy.

Principal investigator at Bath, Dr Alistair Hunt, explained: “I am delighted that researchers from a range of disciplines in the University have this opportunity to participate in this project to address the growth of a number of non-communicable diseases in the UK. We hope to demonstrate how inter-disciplinary research can work to develop solutions to one of the largest public health challenges of the present day.”

Professor Nick Pearce, Director of the IPR added: “The nature of this research is a really important issue for the future, and we at the IPR are delighted to be involved.”

Dr Krista Bondy said: "This research is an excellent opportunity for us to take a much broader view of the system that creates particular forms of urban development, and to design more effective interventions targeted at reducing negative health impacts and improving urban development policy."

This work is a collaboration with the University of Bristol and worth £6.6 million.

Shaping public health policies to reduce inequalities and harm

Professor Anna Gilmore (Department for Health) is the Bath-lead for the second centre, led by the University of Edinburgh, which focuses on shaping public health policies to reduce inequalities and harm. She and Dr Lindsay Robertson head up the Bath team with input from Dr Darragh McGee and Professor Harry Rutter.

Bath will lead the work focusing on investigating the commercial determinants of health and health inequalities. This includes the approaches used by commercial producers to promote certain unhealthy products, such as tobacco, alcohol or foods high in fat, salt and sugar, and the way this influences people’s choices, policy and the knock-on effect this has on the health of the population.

It builds on the successful work of the Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) at Bath and its involvement in the Bloomberg-funded global tobacco-industry watchdog, STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products), as well as the wider work of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies in which Bath has played a key role.

Professor Anna Gilmore explained: “This is an exciting opportunity to really address the underlying causes of ill health in the UK and a key challenge facing public health – how to implement public health policies that may threaten business interests. The funding of this consortium illustrates that the need to address the role of the commercial sector in influencing health and policy is now increasingly recognised. We look forward to working with an amazing group of co-investigators and partners in this exciting initiative.”

This project is worth £5.9 million in total.

Lifting the lid on the social, economic and environmental factors affecting health

Professor Dame Sally Macintyre, Chair of the UKPRP Scientific Advisory Board and Expert Review Group Panel said: “These newly funded, well designed projects will help to lift the lid on the social, economic and environmental factors affecting our health.

“By investing in these interdisciplinary teams and drawing on a wide range of knowledge and expertise, UKPRP is supporting work that will have real life benefits for both policy makers and the wider public alike.

“Non-communicable diseases place a huge burden on us all and we hope that this investment will help to provide practical and tangible solutions that will positively impact people’s lives and health.”

The wider funding is part of a £25 million UKPRP investment awarded to eight projects that aim to address the bigger picture factors behind the prevention of NCDs which make up the vast majority of illnesses in the UK and account for an estimated 89 per cent of all deaths.