Public health funding: a new approach to address conditions like obesity and cancer

Through the UK Prevention Research Partnership, we are supporting researchers to work with experts outside of health to prevent the rise of non-communicable diseases. Sophie Hawkesworth explains more.

DAZL Diamonds Cheerleading Squad practice at the William Gascoigne Centre in Leeds during a session organised by Dance Action Zone Leeds (DAZL) who work with young people to improve their health through dance.

Credit: Tim Smith/Panos

DAZL Diamonds Cheerleading Squad practice at the William Gascoigne Centre in Leeds. The sessions are organised by Dance Action Zone Leeds who work with young people to improve their health through dance.

The main causes of premature death in the UK are behaviours that we all recognise as unhealthy – smoking, poor diet, drinking alcohol and being inactive. But simply educating people on the links between these behaviours and conditions such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes is insufficient to change habits.

Our individual behaviours and responses are driven by a web of influences that range from biological to economic and cultural. For example, our food choices can be influenced by government pricing policies or the number of fast-food restaurants we pass on the way home from work. Our physical activity levels can depend on local transport links or access to green spaces.

Public health issues that arise due to these drivers are often termed 'wicked problems' because they are the result of complex, interwoven factors that can seem insurmountable.

Why 'health of the public' research is needed

To fully understand and improve the drivers that lead to poor health we need to broaden out the dialogue and draw on the expertise of people from all sectors of society. 

This concept has been called 'health of the public research' and is gaining momentum in the UK. It calls for solutions that integrate biomedical approaches with aspects of natural and social sciences and the arts and humanities to improve people’s health-related quality of life. 

A new approach to funding

Research funders often need to collaborate around a shared agenda to achieve transformational change. This is especially true for health of the public research, where multiple research communities need to work together. 

By combining efforts with 11 other funders, the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) represents a new and exciting approach to public health funding. 

What makes it different to previous efforts is that we are encouraging a whole system approach, recognising that there is no single intervention that will solve 'wicked' health problems. We believe that the research will have much greater impact because it will be built from a shared vision.  

The first round of UKPRP awards were announced in May and a second funding call will open in September 2019. 

We are supporting research programmes that:

  • are co-designed and delivered with the organisations and groups that will ultimately use the evidence – including local authorities, public health specialists, schools, workplaces, third sector and industry partners
  • involve experts who work in the broad environments that affect our health – from the built and natural, to the political and technological.  

How to find out more

We'll be holding an information and networking event about the UKPRP scheme in London on 24 September 2019.

Please confirm your interest to attend by 25 July 2019.

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