CEDAR Bulletin 14 – September 2015

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CEDAR in the media: TV, internet and computer games associated with poorer GCSE grades

screentimeEach hour per day spent watching TV, using the internet or playing computer games during Year 10 is associated with poorer grades at GCSE at age 16 according to new CEDAR research.

In a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers also found that pupils doing an extra hour of daily homework and reading performed significantly better than their peers. However, the level of physical activity had no effect on academic performance.

Researchers studied 845 pupils from secondary schools in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, measuring levels of activity and sedentary behaviour at age 14.5 years and then comparing this to their performance in their GCSEs the following year. This data was from the ROOTS study, a study assessing health and wellbeing during adolescence led by the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry.

The team found that screen time was associated with total GCSE points achieved. Each hour per day of time spent in front of the TV or online at age 14.5 years was associated with 9.3 fewer GCSE points at age 16 years – the equivalent, for example, of two grades in one subject (for example from a B to a D) or one grade in each of two subjects. Two extra hours was associated with 18 fewer points at GCSE.

Despite finding no significant association between moderate to vigorous physical activity and academic performance, the researchers concluded that engaging in physical activity does not damage a pupil’s academic performance, and it should remain a public health priority both in and out of school.

This story received widespread media coverage, including BBC News, Daily Mail, Independent, Times (£), Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Express and NHS Choices Behind the Headlines among many others. Lead author Kirsten Corder was interviewed on The Today Programme (43.00 and a related discussion at 02.55.00), as well as talking to national BBC and ITV news and a dozen local radio stations across the UK.

GoActive trial set for launch

GoActive_2colDr Kirsten Corder (see story above) has been awarded an NIHR Public Health Research Project Grant for a randomised controlled trial to assess the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the GoActive intervention.

GoActive stands for “Get Others Active” and aims to encourage young people aged 13-14 to try new activities and be physically active more often. This trial will involve approximately 2400 adolescents from 16 secondary schools in the East of England. The trial builds on successful pilot work conducted at CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit.

“In our research, we’ve asked teenagers how we could help them to be more active,” says Kirsten. “The overwhelming response was that they lacked opportunities to be active in a way that interested them. They wanted more variety and choice about what activities they tried, telling us that the limited range of school sports was putting most of them off being active. We want to test if by offering a range of non-traditional activities we can help teenagers be more active.”

GoActive will use activities from athletics to Zumba, boxing to yoga that young people can do during the school day, at evenings, and at weekends. Young people will be involved as participants, activity leaders and mentors, and GoActive points and prizes will encourage participation.

Build it and they will come? How new walking and cycling routes change behaviour

shutterstock_41295859SCA new study published by CEDAR in BMJ Open has found that the influence of better walking and cycling infrastructure on unconscious pathways may be more powerful in driving behaviour change than any explicit conscious change in perceptions of the physical and social environment.

Those who support active travel have long campaigned for better infrastructure, and many local authorities are making changes to urban environments to promote both walking and cycling.

However, few scientific studies have evaluated the effects of changing the environment to provide evidence that designing healthier cities actually does lead to changes in health behaviours. In an environment of limited resources, this isn’t just an academic question: should Councils and campaigners focus on improving infrastructure, or should resources be reserved for campaigns to educate and change perceptions about the benefits of being active through travel?

However, few scientific studies have evaluated the effects of changing the environment to provide evidence that designing healthier cities actually does lead to changes in health behaviours. In an environment of limited resources, this isn’t just an academic question: should Councils and campaigners focus on improving infrastructure, or should resources be reserved for campaigns to educate and change perceptions about the benefits of being active through travel?

The researchers use questionnaire data from adults living within 5 km of new walking and cycling infrastructure in Cardiff, Kenilworth and Southampton, part of the Connect2 initiative run by Sustrans. They found that the large majority of changes in physical activity could be explained by a simple causal pathway driven by the use of the new routes, rather than changes in cognitive perceptions of the environment. This finding adds weight to the idea that behaviour can be promoted by changing environmental cues without explicitly encouraging behaviour, sometimes referred to as ‘nudging’.

Propensity to Cycle: Public Health Modelling wins grant and award nod for online tool

Cycle gearsCEDAR’s Public Health Modelling programme has been developing an interactive online tool designed to help local authorities and the third sector prioritise and plan where to invest in cycling. By analysing and modelling local data, the National Propensity to Cycle Tool will show where cycling might be expected to increase the most, as well as what the health and carbon benefits of this would be.

The tool uses information about local populations and geography, together with insight into what influences behaviour change to estimate the current cycling potential within different localities. Users can change various assumptions and data in the tool to test a range of future scenarios. This will allow planners to better target infrastructure and behaviour change interventions where they will have the greatest impact and cost-effectiveness.

Following successful prototype work completed for the UK Department for Transport, the team have been awarded a University of Cambridge internal EPSRC Impact Acceleration grant of to work with Transport for Greater Manchester to further develop the tool. Greater Manchester is seeking to increase cycling to 10% of all trips by 2025, and is investing over £80million in cycling between 2013 and 2018, the largest programme of its kind outside London. More information at www.tfgm.com/cycling

The National Propensity to Cycle Tool was also selected as a Cycle Planning Awards finalist in the category “Best Innovation – use of technology or new technique” and was commended by the judges. Read about the awards here.

Traffic and Health in Glasgow study completes data collection

MotorwayAs part of urban regeneration initiatives, a new five-mile section of the M74 motorway has recently been opened in Glasgow. This ‘natural experiment’ provides an opportunity to evaluate a major change in the urban environment, which may have effects on the health and wellbeing of those living nearby.

Lessons learned in Glasgow will be important across the country and beyond, as there is currently little clear public health evidence to guide decisions about investing in expensive urban regeneration projects of this kind.

The Traffic and Health in Glasgow Study is examining the impact of the M74, and will help inform future policy and planning in other parts of the UK where population growth is anticipated or urban redesign is proposed. The study is evaluating the effects of the motorway using multiple methods of data collection:

  • a postal survey of adults living close to the motorway, as well as those living in two matched comparison areas of the city
  • a monitoring study in a subset of postal survey participants, using accelerometry and GPS measurement
  • qualitative interviews with survey participants to explore their experiences of change.

In July, the study successfully completed data collection. More than 1,300 participants completed the postal survey, with approximately 200 completing the monitoring sub-study and 30 completing qualitative interviews.

The study is a collaboration between CEDAR researchers, the University of Glasgow, the University of Edinburgh and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health.

Job-loss associated with weight gain – but diet and physical activity may not be the reason

Jobcentre-plus-Job-loss is associated with a more weight gain in working UK adults, according to new CEDAR research – but changes in smoking, diet and physical activity did not explain the weight gained. However, loss of sleep due to worry may be a factor, and the behavioural and psychosocial impacts of job-loss need to be further explored.

In a new paper published in Social Science and Medicine, CEDAR investigators studied working UK adults from two longitudinal surveys to explore weight change in relation to transitions in employment. The researchers used a population-based cohort study (EPIC-Norfolk) and a longitudinal nationwide panel (British Household Panel Survey).

They found that becoming unemployed was associated with significantly more weight gain compared to adults who either stayed in employment or retired. This association was more pronounced in women than in men. Moreover, the study found that job loss was associated with a sharp and significant increase in sleep-loss, and a deterioration of a number of indicators of psychosocial well-being.

The results strengthen evidence for a causal link between unemployment and higher body weight, and hold implications for the physical and mental health support for those who lose their jobs.

Katie helps kids KickstART public art

KickstartThis summer, CEDAR Career Development Fellow Dr Katie Morton joined students at Chesterton Community College and artist Zoe Chamberlain for a workshop on creating active landscapes. The workshop is part of a project by KickstART, a public art project seeking to foster community pride and enhance a sense of place in a development of 100 new homes on the site of Cambridge City FC’s grounds in Milton Road.

Students created ideas for an active landscape that will be part of the new housing development. The workshop fused art, sport and design, and students learnt about how active landscapes can help people stay fit and healthy, right on their doorstep.

After working on their designs in the classroom, students got busy in the playground. Using templates, stencils and spray street-chalk, they marked their designs in real size on the ground to see if they would work if they were actually built.

Following the workshop, Zoe is now using the students’ plans to inform her own designs when working with professional landscape architects on the active landscape at Mitchams Park, Cambridge.

Katie has also recently been selected to take part in the Royal Society Pairing Scheme in which research scientists are paired with UK parliamentarians and civil servants. The scheme allows scientists and policymakers to get an insight in to each others’ worlds by spending time together in their respective work places. Katie is one of only 30 academics selected, and has been paired with a member of the Health and Safety Executive.

More details about the scheme at https://royalsociety.org/grants-schemes-awards/pairing-scheme/ 

Recent CEDAR publications

openaccessThe following papers have been added to our publications database since the last CEDAR Bulletin. All are Open Access.

General public health


Physical Activity

You can search over 280 CEDAR scientific papers by author, journal, study, title and abstract keywords on our publications database at www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/publications 

Upcoming talks and seminars

shutterstock_124494247 SMALLWe have a number of forthcoming talks in our CEDAR / MRC Epidemiology Seminar series.

Details are subject to confirmation. Sign up to for email alerts at www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/news/seminars. See all future events at www.mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk/events

Other talks at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health www.iph.cam.ac.uk/news/seminars

  • Thursday 8 October 2015, 6.00pm, Institute of Public Health Annual Lecture
    Dr Julio Frenk,
    President-Elect, University of Miami; Dean, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
    Martin Cohen Lecture Theatre, Li Ka Shing Centre, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
  • Friday 16 October 2015, 1.00 – 2.00pm, Bradford Hill Seminar
    Domhnall MacAuley
    , University of Ulster; Consultant-Associate Editor, Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) and PLOS Medicine.
  • Friday 20 November 1:00pm, Bradford Hill Seminar
    Professor Mika Salminen, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland
    Large Seminar Room, 1st Floor, Cambridge Institute of Public Health
  • Friday 5 Feb 2016, 1.00 – 2.00pm, Bradford Hill Seminar
    Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing, Public Health England Large Seminar Room, 1st Floor, Institute of Public Health, University Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge
  • Friday 12 February 2016, 1.00 – 2.00pm, Bradford Hill Seminar
    Professor Martin White
    , MRC Epidemiology Unit and CEDAR; Director of the NIHR Public Health Research Programme.
    Large seminar room, Cambridge Institute for Public Health

Thursday 14 April 2016, 1.00 – 2.00pm, Bradford Hill Seminar
Dean Dariush Mozaffarian, Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy

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Questions and comments to Oliver Francis: ocf26@cam.ac.uk