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.
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.
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.