Experts at the University of Stirling are part of a new £5.9 million research consortium looking at how the marketing of alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy food and drink has a detrimental impact on health.
Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, of the Institute of Social Marketing at Stirling, is Deputy Director and co-investigator on the SPECTRUM (Shaping Public Health Policies to Reduce Inequalities and Harm) Consortium, funded by the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP).
SPECTRUM will focus on the impact of commercial factors – such as strategies used to promote products – on health and health inequalities. It builds on the work of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies; however, it has widened its remit to include unhealthy food and drinks.
Dr Fitzgerald, whose research focuses predominantly on alcohol policy, said: “The new SPECTRUM consortium will work closely with policymakers and charities to address some of the most serious causes of ill-health in the UK today, including smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity.
“We will consider how public health policies and interventions can address the marketing and availability of unhealthy products, to prevent cancers, heart disease and diabetes.”
As one of two Deputy Directors on the project, Dr Fitzgerald will work to ensure that members of the public are involved in understanding and shaping the SPECTRUM research programme; that policymakers and researchers are brought together to share evidence and options for reducing harm from alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy products; and, ultimately, that the research is well positioned to effectively impact policy and practice in the UK.
Professor Linda Bauld, of the Usher Institute for Population Health Sciences and Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, will lead the study. She said: “To reduce non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases, we need to address their main preventable causes, including smoking, alcohol and overweight and obesity. To do so means introducing and enforcing public health policies that often clash with the business interests of very profitable companies. SPECTRUM aims to produce research that can rise to this challenge.”
SPECTRUM brings together 10 universities in the UK and one in Australia with leading alliances that aim to improve health and reduce inequalities in the UK and internationally. Public Health England, NHS Health Scotland, Public Health Wales and two independent companies specialising in statistical modelling and retail data are also involved in the project. The project will involve new research, knowledge exchange, impact, public engagement and capacity building activities.
The new project is part of the first funding round of the UKPRP – which is investing £25 million into understanding and influencing the social economic and environmental factors that affect health. The funded projects will tackle the prevention of non-communicable diseases – such as heart disease, obesity, poor mental health, cancer and diabetes – by creating practical changes that reduce the burden of these diseases on our health and social care systems, and enable people to live longer, healthier lives.
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 policymakers 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 UKPRP funders include: the UK Research and Innovation research councils (Medical Research Council; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; Economic and Social Research Council; and the Natural Environment Research Council), a number of charities (British Heart Foundation; Cancer Research UK; Wellcome; and The Health Foundation), and government departments (Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office; Health and Care Research Wales; National Institute of Health Research; and the Public Health Agency).