Researchers from the University of Glasgow are set to take a leading role in Population Health Improvement UK (PHI-UK), a newly established network aimed at enhancing health across the population.

UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) has initiated Population Health Improvement UK (PHI-UK) with a substantial £35 million investment over four years. This network will unite researchers, public health bodies, and community organizations from across the UK to enhance research focused on sustainable and equitable improvements in population health. PHI-UK’s objective is to discover innovative and inclusive methods to enhance the health of individuals, communities, and places, while also aiming to reduce health inequalities. This will be achieved through the development and evaluation of enduring and environmentally sustainable interventions.

Professor Petra Meier, from the University of Glasgow’s School of Health and Wellbeing, will lead on one of the four initial PHI-UK investments: the £7.5m Enhancing Policy Modelling theme, which will look at how better economic policies can help tackle the UK’s growing health inequalities. Professor Meier will lead the theme working alongside colleagues from the University of Glasgow’s College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences and the College of Social Sciences, as well as collaborators from the Universities of Strathclyde, Leeds, Sheffield, Essex, and Birmingham, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, West Midlands Combined Authority and Glasgow City Region, Public Health Scotland, and other local and national government departments and agencies, charities and citizens’ groups.

The way policymakers tackle, or fail to tackle, the UK’s urgent economic challenges – such as economic policies in response to the climate emergency, population aging, or technological revolution – will either worsen or improve health inequalities. To tackle this, the Enhancing Policy Modelling theme will develop computer models to show how tax, welfare, pensions and inheritance policies might affect health inequality outcomes to help policymakers understand their impacts on people in their area. Through citizen, policy and advocacy engagement it will incorporate wide-ranging insights into these models to make sure they answer the most pressing questions, inform real world decisions, and are relevant and inclusive across different groups in society.

Professor Meier said:

“As Director of the Enhancing Policy Modelling theme, I am delighted to be working with a strong coalition of scientists, policymakers, charities, and citizens groups. Together we will be using computer modelling alongside wide-ranging public engagement to highlight the complex interplay between economic policy decisions and the population’s health and inform the development of effective policy solutions.”

The four initial themes within PHI-UK will address separate but complementary challenges: creating healthy urban spaces, supporting mental health and wellbeing, understanding and addressing the negative health effects of commercial products and practices, and enhancing our modelling capabilities to address urgent policy and economic challenges. The goal is to create a holistic picture of the various influences on health and wellbeing, in order to develop and evaluate innovative and impactful interventions at the population level. PHI-UK will pursue a systems approach to health improvement – one that considers all the interacting parts of how the complex modern world affects our health, is driven by data and evidence, and has an inclusive approach to incorporating different perspectives from across society.

On behalf of UKRI, Professor Patrick Chinnery, Executive Chair of MRC, said:

“This new national research network will deliver a deep understanding of the mechanisms linking diverse risk factors to common diseases, accelerating the development of interventions. This will improve health and reduce health inequalities through creative and radical approaches.

“The £35m investment is a major component of UKRI’s Securing Better Health, Ageing and Wellbeing strategic theme, which targets a priority challenge through a portfolio of related investments which leverage research disciplines across UKRI.”

Prof Nick Wareham, newly appointed Director of the Network said:

“The establishment of PHI-UK is an important step for UKRI as it enables multi-disciplinary research across the UK aimed at improving health and reducing inequalities. Our intention is to develop PHI-UK as a growing, dynamic and integrated national community of population health researchers, developing new themes and connecting the network to existing strengths in the UK.”