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Blog: The mental health of the nation has never been so under threat

Writing for the Fuse blog, Fiona Duncan discusses the mental health impact of COVID-19.

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SPHR Experts appointed as NIHR Senior Investigators

Two experts from the NIHR School for Public Health Research have been appointed as NIHR Senior Investigators.

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Evaluating the health, social and economic impact of equitable public mental health interventions (WP3)

The work package will evaluate potential Public Mental Health interventions from an equity perspective. It will also tie in with work occurring in the Public Mental Health (PMH) theme. This work package will extrapolate the long term health (physical and mental) and wider social and economic implications of equity definitions across the health service supply/access/outcome chain to public health for identified groups, particularly people in social crisis.

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Evaluating the efficiency and equity impact of food policies to improve population health (WP2)

This work package aims to develop a method to estimate the impact of changes in diet in response to public health policies into medium and long term health, economic benefits and equity impacts to evaluate local food interventions.

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Development and application of reporting guidelines for efficiency, equity and systems approaches (WP1)

Guidance is needed on the reporting outcomes from studies of efficiency, equity and public health systems from public health research to ensure that evidence can be used in public health practice. This work package will bring together the key EEPHS members, practitioners, and policymakers together with experts in reporting efficiency, equity and systems approaches for public health to develop guidance on reporting outcomes.

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Equal England

The aim of the Equal England network is to expand the successful Equal North network of over 550 members to build a national community of academics, researchers, practitioners, and members of the public across England who share a common interest in addressing health and social inequalities.

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Understanding barriers and facilitators to implementing regulatory mechanisms to restrict hot food takeaway outlets

Creating healthier environments can improve our health. For example, controlling how many hot food takeaways there are on our streets can help to eat more healthily we call this a ‘healthier food environment’ so that people can make better food choices and reduce obesity. For example sometimes local councils can reject applications for new hot food takeaways to prevent them opening up. However, these decisions to say no are often appealed by the company wanting to open the takeaway. When someone appeals it is the job of the National Planning Inspectorate to decide whether or not to permit the takeway to open. The aim of this research is to explore and examine how The National Planning Inspectorate makes these decisions. 

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Improved use of routine data to assess and evaluate food environments

Mounting evidence links quantity and mix of high street food retailing, in particular, easy access to takeaway (‘fast-food’) outlets selling energy-dense, nutrient poor hot food for consumption off the premises, with socioeconomic inequalities, unhealthy diet.  This science has direct links to policy through informing ‘healthy’ neighbourhood design. However, most evidence is cross-sectional and descriptive, limiting scope for causal inference. Longitudinal and quasi-experimental studies are rare. This is partly a reflection of insufficient or inadequate data pertaining to the neighbourhood food environment and locations of food outlets as environmental risk factors for diet and disease, over time.

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Local government interactions with harmful commodity industries

Big companies that produce and sell unhealthy products such as tobacco, alcohol and foods and drinks high in salt, sugar and fat have significant impacts on our health. Selling unhealthy products is often highly profitable and companies have a responsibility towards their shareholders to make profit and sell more goods, regardless of whether it has a negative effect on the health of the people buying them. Therefore, there is a conflict between the interests of companies that produce harmful products and the things that we try to do in public health to reduce the illnesses that are caused by consuming too many unhealthy things (e.g. obesity or diabetes). The practices of large companies that attempt to influence public opinion and health policy in favour of industry have been widely documented. These practices include lobbying, marketing, shaping preferences and direct participation in policy planning and delivery. Company’s revenue, employment opportunities, and scientific and technical expertise provide them with a powerful voice in influencing public perceptions and decision making.

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Evaluation of the removal of HFSS ‘junk-food’ advertising in public transport networks on junk-food awareness and purchasing in London

Marketing and branding is effective in encouraging the purchase and consumption of unhealthy food and drink, but the impact of outdoor advertising specifically needs further research (PHE, 2018). Advertising not only influences adult behaviour but also children’s food choices resulting in pressure being put on parents to buy unhealthy foods. This project aims to undertake (i) an impact evaluation and (ii) a process and implementation evaluation of the removal of high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) advertising on: exposure to HFSS advertising, perceptions of HFSS foods and food purchasing in London.

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