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Dolly Theis

PhD student

Changing behaviour at the population level theme, Efficient and equitable health systems theme

University of Cambridge

Research Interests

Dolly's research interests are centred around the government policymaking process in relation to public health policy. Specifically, what and who influences the policy processes and what role policy entrepreneurs play. Dolly is also interested in how epidemiological evidence is understood, framed and used by policymakers to make policy decisions.

Dolly's PhD reflections

I could not have imagined having a better funding body for my PhD experience and research. SPHR transformed the experience for the better by providing an active, friendly, supportive and extremely helpful community, lots of opportunities to engage and ask questions, and many events that allowed me to learn from others and share my research. I could not recommend doing a PhD through SPHR more. After I started the PhD we had the COVID-19 pandemic, which put public health in the spotlight in an unprecedented way, so this is a unique time in which the need for public health specialists and researchers is of upmost importance. SPHR went out of its way to support me during the pandemic and ensure I had sufficient help to adapt.


Dolly’s explains her research in 3 minutes:


Dolly's Q&A

  • What has been your career journey so far?

    Prior to starting my PhD I completed an MPhil in Public Health and Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge and before that I led the childhood obesity research at the Centre for Social Justice think tank in Westminster. I have also been a parliamentary researcher in the Houses of Parliament and an election campaign manager.

  • Why did you choose to do a PhD in public health research?

    I chose to do a PhD in public health research after discovering a deep interest in obesity policy during my time working at a think tank in Westminster. I heard about the fascinating research taking place in the MRC Epidemiology Unit and applied after finding out they were looking for researchers to examine the policy processes in more depth.

  • What is your research focused on?

    What and who influences the government obesity policymaking process in England.

  • Why is it important?

    There is a growing interest among public health researchers in how to better influence government obesity policy to ensure it is grounded in the best available evidence. However, there is a lack of up to date, high quality empirical evidence on how the policymaking process works in practice. Without knowing how the process works, the efforts to influence it risk being ineffective. I hope my research will help researchers and others to better understand the policymaking process which in turn may enable them to influence it more effectively and to ultimately improve public health policy.

  • What do you like about being a part of the NIHR School for Public Health Research?

    I love the community of NIHR public health researchers and the meaningful efforts to get us together to share ideas and our work. I have been inspired many times by what other researchers are working on and find the variety hugely insightful.

  • What skills have you learnt and/or are hoping to learn as part of your PhD?

    I have learned to communicate research more effectively to different audiences and have developed a much more rigorous approach to my research. I hope to continue learning about the vast field of public health and developing my own research interests further.

  • What do you hope to do after completing your PhD

    I would love to continue my research examining the public health policymaking process and keep communicating to a much wider audience.


Theis DRZ, White M. Is Obesity Policy in England Fit for Purpose? Analysis of Government Strategies and Policies, 1992–2020. The Milbank Quarterly. 2021

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