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Research briefings

Exploring young people's perspectives on mental health support in areas of high deprivation: the importance of community support

Improving young people’s mental health and wellbeing is a global public health priority. However, despite continued commitment within the UK policy agenda to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people, the incidence of mental health issues continues to rise.

Impact of COVID-19 on general practitioner contacts with children and young people

Children’s access to primary care is highly sensitive to changes in the health care system. Early in the pandemic it became clear that children were less likely to become seriously unwell from COVID-19 than adults. During March 2020, primary care consultations fell 30% overall. However, it was unclear if reported falls and changes in consulting from face-to-face to remote contacts with GPs affected children and young people in the same way as reported for adults. We used data from GP practices in England to answer these questions examining more than 47 million electronic health records from 4.3 million children and young people aged 0-24 years in England before and during pandemic lockdowns from 2015 to 2020.

An exploration of the role that the peers of parents play in the decision making of parents feeding young children

Much literature focuses on the important role that
parents can play in influencing the diet of young children, and suggest that outside of genetic dispositions, parents have been found to be the most important influence on a child’s diet. It follows naturally then that research into the factors that influence a parent’s decision making is equally as important. With this being noted, this systematic review seeks to establish and evaluate the role that the peers of parents play in the decision-making process of parents feeding young children.

Improving young people’s health and well-being through Integrated Care Systems (ICS) in England

Integrated care systems (ICS), outlined in the NHS Long-term Plan, are intended to improve integration across public health, the NHS, education and social care in England. As part of a wider project on children and young peoples (CYP) health systems, we surveyed all 42 ICSs in summer 2021 to:


  • Identify progress towards becoming a fully functional ICS for CYP
  • Examine service planning and delivery for CYP
  • Explore key barriers and facilitators of integration in ICSs
  • Assess the impacts of Covid-19 on ICSs, both positive and negative

Rehousing programmes for older social housing tenants in Hackney, London

Housing can have a big impact on people’s lives, and on communities. Programmes exist to support people to move to homes that are better suited to their needs and preferences.
In collaboration with Hackney Council, we carried out a study of how well rehousing programmes for older social renters in Hackney, London are working.

Exploring the potential of a school-based online health and wellbeing screening tool: Young people’s perspectives

Our research reports on an evaluation of a novel, multi-stage health and wellbeing screening and intervention programme, the Digital Health Contact (DHC). The DHC involves an online health and wellbeing questionnaire which is delivered to an entire secondary school year group.
The research involved in-depth interviews with young people from two schools who had recently taken part in the DHC.

Health-Justice Partnerships in England: An implementation study

Health-justice partnerships are collaborations between healthcare and welfare rights advice services. They provide assistance for people on social welfare legal issues, for example benefits, debt, housing and employment. The study was guided by the research question: ‘How can health-justice partnerships be implemented successfully?’.

Changes to local area public sector spending and food purchasing in England: a longitudinal ecological study

This research examines the impact of changes in public sector spending due to austerity policies on food consumption. Up until now, research on austerity policies and food has focused on welfare reform and foodbank use. However, this research examines impacts of changes in public sector spending on foods people buy, and our study suggests that there may be an impact.

Changes in household food and drink purchases following restrictions on advertising across the Transport for London network

Advertising of foods and drinks with a high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) content is associated with obesity. Many governments and local authorities are considering advertising restrictions to reduce consumption of HFSS products as part of obesity prevention strategies. In February 2019, the Mayor of London introduced restrictions on the advertisement of HFSS products across the Transport for London (TfL) network. In this study, we estimated the impact the TfL advertising policy had on household purchases of HFSS products.

Exploring the potential of a school-based online health and wellbeing screening tool: professional stakeholders’ perspectives and experiences

This research reports on an evaluation of a novel, multi-stage health and wellbeing screening and intervention programme, the Digital Health Contact (DHC). The DHC involves an online health and wellbeing screening questionnaire which is delivered to an entire secondary school year group. Responses are screened, with indicated face-to-face intervention and follow-up from Public Health School Nurses provided for those where unmet needs are identified.

Is the Healthy Start scheme associated with higher food expenditure in low-income families in the UK?

The Healthy Start scheme was introduced in 2006 and aims to provide a nutritional safety net to low-income families. However, there has been little evaluation on whether the scheme is effective. This project aims to address this issue.

Embedding attention to ethnicity and migration within public health

This project responded to past criticisms that public health research and practice in England fails to adequately consider ethnic diversity, disadvantage and discrimination. Despite a long history of migration, well-established ethnic minority populations and growing ethnic diversity, health inequalities work has predominantly focused on socioeconomic deprivation.

This project took stock of current approaches to understanding and addressing the health needs of migrant and ethnic minority people within local and national public health arenas.

Exploring the effectiveness of ‘Forest School’ on the health and development of pre-school aged children

Young children spend far less time in natural environments than they did in the past. This is largely due to changes in the socio-cultural and political climate of the UK. Forest School is one approach to reconnecting children with nature, in the context of these changes.
The aim of this research was to conduct a literature review of the current evidence base on the effectiveness of Forest School on health and development indicators of pre-school aged children. The project also considered the accessibility of Forest School, including who accesses the programme and the barriers to accessing Forest School.

A critique of the ‘Childhood Obesity: a plan for action’ English national policy using a social determinants of health perspective

Childhood obesity has been identified as a public health priority in high income countries globally. In response, countries have developed national and local policies, and have implemented numerous public health interventions in an attempt to ‘tackle’ the problem. In England, the UK government published the policy ‘Childhood Obesity: a plan for action’. This research involved analysing this policy using a social determinants of health perspective.

Measuring 24 hour movement of pre-school children: how do we measure sleep?

Emerging evidence suggests that ‘healthy sleep’, including sleep duration, quality and timing, plays an important role in the health and development of young children.

Recently, there has been an increased public health interest in healthy sleep. This comes in light of emerging evidence in support of viewing the whole 24 hour period of the day, and the behaviours this encompasses (physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep), as one. Previously these behaviours were generally assessed independently of each other. Viewing these behaviours collectively has been related to indicators of health.

Measurement underpins the research examining these behaviours. Previously, sleep has generally been examined independently from other movement, with a host of different ways to assess sleep. With increased public health policy interest in this area, it is important to examine which tools can be used to measure all movement.

A qualitative exploration of English preschool children’s emotional wellbeing during COVID-19 restrictions

In Spring 2020, the first COVID-19 lockdown placed unprecedented restrictions on the UK population, and despite being least affected by the virus, young children experienced enormous disruption to their lives. As their routines were suddenly turned upside down, parents were faced with the role of managing their children’s wellbeing in a completely novel situation.

We interviewed 20 parents with a child aged 3-5 years. The results were analysed in terms of nurturing which is a framework most often used in educational settings to support children’s social and emotional needs

Impact of COVID-19 restrictions on pre-school children’s eating, activity and sleep behaviours: a qualitative study

We wanted to find out how the lives of pre-school children changed during lockdown, particularly in terms of their physical activity, sedentary behaviour, eating and sleep. We interviewed 20 parents of pre-school children and asked them about their children’s lives during lockdown.

Sociodemographic differences in exposure to high fat, salt and sugar food and drink advertising

Advertising of products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) is associated with increased consumption of these products. Some groups have been found to be more exposed to HFSS advertising, including socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. This may contribute to the higher prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases we see in disadvantaged groups.
Regulation of food and drink advertising has been increasingly recommended as a policy lever for obesity prevention. However, little is known about their potential impact across different social groups. The aim of this study was to investigate whether there were sociodemographic differences in advertising exposure and whether advertising exposure was associated with obesity.

The impact of school exclusion zone planning guidance on the number and type of food outlets in an English local authority: A longitudinal analysis

The environment in which we live and work influences the food we eat and subsequently our health.  There is a large body of evidence showing a positive relationship between fast food consumption and increased risk of overweight and obesity.  Local authorities have responsibility for tackling the causes of poor health including the built environment.  To meet this objective approximately 50% of local authorities have amended their planning guidance to promote healthy weight environments by limiting planning permission for new fast food outlets (hot food takeaways).   The most popular type of planning guidance used by local authorities restricts planning guidance within 400 metres of a secondary school.  However, to date there has been no evaluation on if and how this type of planning guidance changes the food environment.  The city of Newcastle Upon Tyne implemented this type of planning guidance in October 2016.

Depression in LGBTQ+ adolescents: The role of school connectedness

The aim of this project was to understand the difference in the relationship between school connectedness and depression for LGBTQ+ and heterosexual adolescents.

The Relationship between Austerity and Food Insecurity in the UK: A Systematic Review

This research is the first to systematically review quantitative studies of austerity policies, food insecurity, and foodbank use in the UK.

Exploring the local policy context for reducing health inequalities in children and young people: an in depth qualitative case study of one local authority in the North of England, UK

Improving children and young people’s (CYP) health and addressing health inequalities are international priorities. Reducing inequalities is particularly pertinent in light of the Covid-19 outbreak which has exacerbated already widening inequalities in health. This research reports on a qualitative case study of one local authority in the North of England, UK. The aim of the research was to explore understandings of inequality, anticipated pathways for reducing inequalities among CYP and the key factors affecting the development and implementation of policy to reduce inequalities among CYP at a local level.

Improving knowledge exchange in public health

The aim of this research was to co-create an agreed set of theoretically and empirically-informed knowledge sharing principles to inform the SPHR research programme with an aim of reducing the knowledge-to-action gap throughout SPHR.

Improved use of routine data to assess and evaluate food environments

Around half of local authorities have a planning policy to control the numbers of takeaway and fast food outlets in their localities. Typically, this restricts the number of new outlets in an area, such as within 400 metres of a school. However, there is currently no evidence on how effective these restrictions are in improving health or reducing health inequalities.
Fuse/SPHR researchers used data from the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) in North East England held by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to find out if it could be used by public health teams and researchers to address this gap.

School-based sex and relationship education (SRE): Evidence-based, best practice criteria

These criteria are designed to help educators of both primary and secondary school children to design and deliver effective and acceptable sex and relationship education (SRE).They are evidence based, and have been developed following a comprehensive study that involved both qualitative and quantitative research conducted in the UK as well as drawing on data from all over the world. The research data include the views of young people who have had SRE, as well as professionals involved in commissioning and delivering SRE.

What makes a ‘successful’ collaborative research project between public health practitioners and academics?

The Public Health Practitioner Evaluation Scheme (PHPES) is a national, competitive scheme that offers practitioners support to evaluate local interventions in collaboration with NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR) researchers. This research was funded by SPHR to evaluate the scheme and make recommendations for the future.

Associations between different methods of commuting and death from any cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and cancer incidence

Active travel is increasingly recognised as an important source of physical activity. This research aimed to identify associations between the different ways of commuting and death from any cause, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cancer incidence.

Evaluating the causal impact of individual alcohol licensing decisions on local health and crime using natural experiments with synthetic controls

Robust evaluations of the impact of individual licensing decisions could potentially inform end improve local decision-making, but it is not feasible to conduct randomized experiments. Together with local practitioners we identified three case studies of local alcohol licensing decisions, and used a novel methodology to evaluate the impact of each of these decisions on local health and crime in the affected English local areas (1,000 – 15,000 people).

Addressing health inequity: Increasing participation and influence in local decision-making

A systematic review of the evidence on the effects of initiatives to increase peoples’ influence in local decision-making, and what the outcomes are in terms of influence and other determinants of health.

Young People's Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March 2020, the UK was placed in lockdown in an effort to help slow the spread of Coronavirus (COVID19). This project wanted to know: what was the impact of lockdown on adolescent mental health and wellbeing, social connections, and social media activity? Who are the vulnerable groups that will need additional support post-lockdown? What will schools need to consider when students return?

Ethnic Minority adults: a scoping review of UK mental health and wellbeing community interventions

Ethnic minority communities in the United Kingdom (UK) are disproportionately affected by poor mental health and by the social determinants of mental illness. A scoping review was undertaken to identify academic papers published since 1990 evaluating community interventions to improve the mental health and wellbeing of ethnic minority adults in the UK.

The Community-based Prevention of Diabetes (ComPoD) trial of a voluntary sector-led programme

The ComPoD trial was funded to provide robust evidence on the effectiveness of a ‘real-world’ diabetes prevention programme in the UK.


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