14 May 2019

The University of Bristol, in partnership with the Universities of Bath, West of England, Manchester, Reading and Cardiff and Bristol City Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority, has been awarded £6.6 million by the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) to tackle unhealthy urban planning and development linked to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, obesity, poor mental health, cancer and diabetes.

The 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.

The projects aim to deliver real changes that reduce the burden of these diseases on our health and social care systems and enable people to live longer, healthier lives.

Many aspects of the world around us influence our health, from the communities in which we live, to the design of our cities and transport systems, the quality of our housing and education. There is strong evidence to show that wider factors such as these, often called ‘upstream determinants’, can have a great influence on how healthy our lives will be.

The projects cover a wide variety of issues, including; investigating the commercial determinants of health (i.e. the approaches used by commercial producers of tobacco, alcohol and food to promote products, influence policy and people’s choices, which in turn impacts on our health as a population); school food systems and their effects on the quality of children’s diets; improving the life chances of children in deprived areas in the UK; embedding health considerations in urban planning and decision-making processes; and developing new economic methods for judging the effectiveness and costs and benefits in policy areas such as economic growth and housing.

The University of Bristol’s five-year consortia project will tackle the root causes of unhealthy urban development by conducting research into urban planning and development systems with a view to embedding the prevention of risk factors associated with NCDs and health inequalities in decision-making on planning early in the decision process.

Professor Matthew Hickman, Professor in Public Health and Epidemiology in Bristol Medical School, co-Director of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol, and lead of the TRU3D (Tackling Root Causes Upstream of Unhealthy Urban Development consortium), added: “We have been given an amazing opportunity to co-develop and test an intervention approach that integrates health at the root of critical decision-making when considering changes to our shared urban environments. If successful, this could provide a transformational change in the prevention of NCD.”

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.” 

Further information

No single research funder has the resources or expertise to address these complex issues on their own, which is why a partnership of twelve funders including charities, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) councils and the UK health and social care departments established the multimillion-pound UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) in 2017.  UKPRP research grants aim to develop, test and refine new, practical and cost-effective approaches to preventing non-communicable diseases at this bigger picture level, which will in turn help to reduce health inequalities across the UK.  

The eight awards (four Consortia and four Networks) will bring together leading researchers, as well as local and national policy makers, charities, non-government organisations (NGOs) and the public.

This first tranche of awards has focussed on two types of awards:

Consortia awards are big interdisciplinary research programmes funded for five years to tackle a specific challenge to prevent people becoming ill (primary prevention). They aim to generate and implement new ideas that can deliver change at a population-level.

Networks which are granted up to four years funding to develop new communities of researchers from diverse disciplines (including experts not previously involved in prevention research), to tackle NCD prevention.

UKPRP CONSORTIA AWARDS (five years duration)

Professor Linda Bauld (University of Edinburgh) – SPECTRUM: Shaping public health policies to reduce inequalities and harm. £5.9 million.

Investigating the commercial determinants of health and health inequalities, (i.e. the approaches used by commercial producers of tobacco, alcohol and food to promote products, influence policy and people’s choices, which in turn impacts on our health as a population). This programme builds on the work of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies by focusing on tobacco and alcohol but extends to unhealthy food (i.e. foods high in fat, salt and sugar).

Professor Matthew Hickman (University of Bristol) – TRU3D: Tackling Root Causes Upstream of Unhealthy Urban Development. £6.6 million.

Research on urban planning and development systems with a view to embedding the prevention of risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases and health inequalities in decision-making on planning. 

Professor Petra Meier (University of Sheffield)- the SIPHER consortium – Systems science In Public Health Economic Research. £4.9 million.

Research on systems-based economic evaluation methods to provide a common basis on which to appraise the effectiveness and costs and benefits of policy measures across social and health outcomes in different policy areas, including inclusive economic growth; housing; mitigating the effects of adverse childhood experiences and the promotion of mental wellbeing. 

Professor John Wright (Bradford Institute of Health Research) – ActEarly: a city collaboratory approach to early promotion of good health and wellbeing. £6.6 million.

Research into improving the life chances of children in two predominantly deprived areas in the UK, Bradford (Yorkshire) and Tower Hamlets (London), focusing on three programmatic areas of healthy places, healthy learning and healthy livelihoods.


Ruth Dundas (University of Glasgow) – MatCH-Net: Maternal and Child Health Network. Harnessing cross-country administrative data to evaluate national policy impacts on maternal, infant and child health and health inequalities. £408,000 over four years.

This network aims to lay the groundwork to develop research programmes to exploit linked, population-level administrative data to evaluate the impact of policies and determinants of maternal and child health across the four UK nations.

Professor Paul Kingston (University of Chester) – PETRA: Prevention of diseases using trade agreements. £306,000 over three years.

This network aims to explore the relationships between trade and investment agreements and NCDs by focussing mainly on tobacco, alcohol and ultra-processed foods to determine how trade could improve health.

Professor Laurence Moore (University of Glasgow) – PHASE: The Population Health Agent-based Simulation Network. £402,000 over four years.

This network will focus on the application and use of agent-based models among researchers and decision makers in order to develop insights into the interdependent and interacting processes that result in non-communicable diseases and health inequalities

Professor Jayne Woodside (Queen’s University Belfast) – GENIUS network:  Generating Excellent Nutrition In UK Schools.  Opportunities for intervention and innovation in the UK School Food System: £254,000 over 2.5 years.

Building a UK school food network that considers the food system across preschool, primary and secondary school settings, and school food provision to influence the quality of children’s diets and reduce inequalities in dietary intake.

A second UKPRP funding call for proposals for consortia and networks will be launched in autumn 2019. For more information about the UKPRP, please visit https://mrc.ukri.org/research/initiatives/prevention-research/ukprp/