By building capacity and capability in public health research, a report released on 28 March 2019 shows how the UK-wide network of Centres of Excellence that includes CEDAR, has helped fuel future public health and prevention research.
Since 2008, partners in the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) have invested £37 million in a network of six Public Health Research Centres of Excellence (UKCRC centres) to increase infrastructure, build academic capacity in public health research in the UK and provide a platform to engage with policy and practice.
The report shows how 10-years of collaborative work by these centres – based in Edinburgh, Belfast, Newcastle, Nottingham, Cambridge and Cardiff – has exceeded expectations of what was thought possible back in 2008.
The UKCRC centres have expanded the pool of early-career researchers and nurtured their talent while creating new opportunities to work across academia, policy and practice. Researchers have gone on to expand their networks and advance their careers, securing fellowships and lectureships, winning awards and promotion. The UKCRC centres have been a strong magnet for leveraging significant additional funding to increase the volume and quality of public health research.
The centres have helped change the way we think about how to align research with the needs of policymakers and practitioners. By pioneering innovative new ways of responding to public health needs and providing rapid response evaluations for policy and practice partners, their work is helping researchers and practitioners to improve public health at a local level.
At the national level, the impact has been wide-reaching, with evidence from centre research programmes influencing the government sugar tax, encouraging healthy transport policies, providing guidance on physical activity, promoting health in schools and playing a leading role in government policy on tobacco smoking and vaping.
Centre collaborations and academic-policy partnerships have changed the public health landscape, paving the way for ambitious new prevention initiatives, like the UK Prevention Research Partnership.
Professor Chris Whitty, Chair of the UKCRC Board and Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care, said:
This report shows how this initiative has built research capacity in public health in the UK. Considered untried and risky in 2006, the hard work and collaborative spirit of many researchers, managers and students, has strengthened evidence-based public health policy and practice.
“Without these sorts of achievements, it is hard to see how further ambitious investment like the UK Prevention Research Partnership would have been feasible. I am very grateful to all the Research Directors that drove this forward, and they should be justly proud of their contribution to the field.”
The report includes a number of examples of CEDAR’s work in capacity building, research excellence, and impact. Highlights include:
- novel legal perspectives on the contribution of international policy and trade law to obesogenic, unsustainable food systems.
- pioneering natural experimental studies of travel infrastructure changes and their influence on physical activity and health
- research showing how the physical and fiscal environments affect our food choices
- engagement with civil servants across national government to help bring greater evidence into policymaking
This work continues, not only within CEDAR, but across the MRC Epidemiology Unit, and in new initiatives such as the Global Diet and Activity Research Group and Network (GDAR).
Prof Nick Wareham, Director of CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit said:
There is much to celebrate thanks to the UKCRC initiative, and much to look forward to.
“It has enabled CEDAR to build significant public health research capacity: PhD studentships and post-doctoral posts have blossomed into promising academic careers, and our alumni are pursuing successful roles in academia, government and the private sector.
“The initiative has supported the development of sustainable research in physical activity, dietary public health and public health modelling. And it has enabled observational studies to mature into the development and testing of public health interventions.
“A key goal for CEDAR has been to build lasting impact beyond research, and we are grateful for the many productive relationships we have been able to forge with practitioners and policymakers regionally, nationally and internationally.
“The coming years present significant and complex challenges for population health in the UK and around the world, and we look forward to continuing to play our part in tackling them.”
You can read the full report here (pdf).
The UKCRC Centres of Excellence are:
- Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland (CoENI), Queens University Belfast
- Centre for Exercise, Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge
- The Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), Cardiff University
- The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health in Public Health (Fuse), Newcastle University
- The Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP), University of Edinburgh.
- The UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS), University of Nottingham
The MRC is a member of the UKCRC, which brings together the NHS, research funders, industry, regulatory bodies, Royal Colleges, patient groups and academia in a UK-wide environment that facilitates and promotes high-quality clinical research for the benefit of patients. For more information visit: www.ukcrc.org
The UKCRC centres funding partners are the MRC, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, NIHR, Economic and Social Research Council, the Public Health Agency, Health and Care Research Wales, Welsh Government, Chief Scientist Office and Wellcome.