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23/23 Health and health inequality impacts of place-based interventions


Published: 08 November 2022

Version: 1.1

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The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme would like to draw researchers’ attention to the commissioning brief below, which was first advertised in Autumn 2022. This is a brief that we have previously advertised as a commissioned funding opportunity. We are still interested in receiving applications in this research area, as it remains a priority in our portfolio. However, please note that the commissioning brief, along with the underpinning literature searches, has not been updated since originally written.

Researching place-based interventions will increase our understanding of how the places in which we live, work and play affect our physical and mental health. It will also increase our knowledge of how focusing efforts on collaboration between local authorities and the voluntary and community sector can make the biggest impact.

The local environment influences our health-related choices and behaviours. Some aspects of  local environments can be health promoting, whilst others may have the opposite effect. The distribution of good environmental influences in our neighbourhoods, such as green and blue spaces, physical activity opportunities, support services and healthy food outlets, is not equitable. Yet there is some evidence that proximity to such assets can improve health, regardless of socio-economic status. A recent umbrella review of the effectiveness of place-based interventions found that they can have positive impacts on health outcomes.

The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme is interested in funding new research on the health and health inequality impacts of place-based interventions. The PHR programme is predominantly interested in upstream interventions that are likely to have impact on populations at scale, addressing health inequalities and the underlying wider determinants of health. Interventions are likely to impact different (sub)populations in different ways, and researchers are encouraged to explore such disparities in their study design.

The PHR Programme recognises that this call is broad and expects researchers to be targeted in their research. The PHR Programme also recognises that, in the delivery of place-based programmes and interventions, existing evidence is applied in different ways and to varying degrees. Therefore, as part of their application and with relevance to their own study, researchers need to clearly identify where research is currently used in practice, where there are gaps in the existing evidence base and how their study could improve  decision making. If relevant, researchers are encouraged to clearly identify how disparate pieces of existing evidence can be combined with their research to deliver a whole societal approach.

The PHR Programme would like applicants to show how their study will contribute to the government’s levelling up agenda. Some useful resources can be found at the Town and Country Planning Association.

A range of study designs and outcome measures can be used. Researchers will need to identify and justify their chosen methodological approach. Researchers will need to specify key outcomes and how these will be measured in the short, medium, and long term. Primary outcomes must be health-related, however the PHR Programme will accept broader outcomes provided the causal pathways to health outcomes are justified. The PHR Programme welcomes applications where researchers and local communities work together to determine the outcomes to be measured. Researchers must demonstrate that sufficient data already exist or can feasibly be collected during the study to assess the effect of the intervention on health inequalities. 

Understanding the value of public health interventions - whether the outcomes justify their use of resources - is integral to the PHR Programme, where resources relating to different economic sectors and budgets are potentially relevant. The main outcomes for economic evaluation are expected to include health (including health-related quality of life) and the impact on health inequalities as a minimum, with consideration of broader outcomes welcomed. Different approaches to economic evaluation are encouraged as long as they assess the value and distributive impact of interventions. Applications that do not include an economic component should provide appropriate justification.

The PHR Programme welcomes involvement from relevant population groups and organisations in the design of the evaluation and in the research team. We will consider inclusion of experts as costed members of the study team if appropriately justified. Researchers should demonstrate the relevance of their proposed research to key stakeholders including local and national policy makers, planners, designers, service providers, community and neighbourhood groups. Researchers are expected to be aware of other studies in this area and ensure their proposed research is complementary.

For further information on submitting an application to the PHR Programme, please refer to the Stage 1 guidance notes and PHR supporting information.