Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

Policy Research Programme - Research initiative on Translating Obesity Research into Policy

Published

14 December 2021

Version

1.0 - December 2021

Contents

Timetable and budget

DescriptionDeadline/Limit
Deadline for Stage 1 Applications 18 January 2022, 1 PM
Notification of outcome of Stage 1 Application March 2022
Deadline for Stage 2 application 03 May 2022, 1 PM
Notification of Stage 2 Application August 2022
Project Start Within 6 weeks of the outcome
Budget £50,000 to £150,000 per project

We are planning to run a second iteration of this call in May 2022 and a third iteration in August 2022. Please note that there may be minor changes to the research specification between iterations.

Introduction

1. The NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP) invites applications from existing NIHR funded research projects looking at issues relating to healthy weight, obesity or food systems to develop an additional work stream which provides learning for policymakers. 

2. The objective of this Translating Obesity Research into Policy (TORP) call is to establish or build links between researchers outside of the PRP to provide potential pathways to implementation for NIHR funded research, and bring the wealth of NIHR funded research evidence to policymakers. Between £50k-£150k will be made available to existing NIHR investigators to deliver small scale projects with clear policy relevance, lasting between 6-12 months.

Background 

Policy Research Programme

3. PRP supports policymakers in England to make informed decisions for the benefit of patients and the public, and the public health, NHS and social care systems. Success of PRP depends on the ability to commission high quality research that offers value for money and delivers robust, relevant, timely and accessible evidence to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and its Arms-Length Bodies (ALBs).

4. The specific nature of policymaking leads to challenges for evidence-informed decision making. For example, there is often an inherent mismatch between timing for policymaking and required times for commissioning and undertaking research. Policymaking is a very fast process with decisions often taken within weeks, while research can take months or years to deliver evidence. There is sometimes a limited window of opportunity for research evidence to enter the policy discourse and have impact.

5. The NIHR has developed a vast community of researchers with access to robust evidence which is of potential interest to policymakers. The purpose of this call is to offer policymakers the opportunity to tap into this community and broaden its access to high-quality, readily available, trustworthy evidence and expertise.

6. Previous Translating Research into Policy calls have funded a range of projects which have included research to: shape an evolving policy for video consultations for physical examinations, including adapting and co-designing guidance with policymakers; develop a national policy for deprescribing in care homes for older people; co-produce a survivor-informed definition of mental health recovery to support improved policymaking in relation to modern slavery; and to find the most effective strategy for assessing risk of fracture and offering preventive treatments in people with intellectual disability.  

Healthy Weight, Obesity and Food Systems

7. A population with high levels of overweight and obesity is one of the biggest long-term health problems in England, with 1 in 3 children leaving primary school with overweight or obese; of these, 1 in 5 have obesity. Around a third of adults are above a healthy weight, and around half of these live with obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for a range of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The issue has become even more pressing recently as evidence shows that excess weight increases the risk of poor outcomes from Covid-19. Obesity prevalence is highest among the most deprived groups in society. Children in the most deprived parts of this country are more than twice as likely to have obesity compared with their peers living in the richest areas. 

8. In July 2020, the latest chapter of the Government’s Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives plans to tackle obesity and enable the nation to make healthier choices was published. This followed on from the commitment to halve childhood obesity and significantly reduce the gap in prevalence between children in the most and least deprived areas by 2030, as detailed in the Childhood Obesity: a plan for action. Areas of particular interest include; advertising of products High Fat Sugar Salt Products (HFSS) – in particular brand advertising and sports sponsorship, volume and location promotions of products HFSS, early years interventions, weight management services, marketing and labelling of infant foods, front of pack nutritional labelling, fiscal measures to encourage individuals to move towards a healthier weight, and ways of working with industry to improve the food environment.  

9. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities was set up in October to focus on improving the nation’s health so that everyone can expect to live more of life in good health, and on levelling up health disparities to break the link between background and prospects for a healthy life. 

Research priorities

10. This call is open exclusively to existing NIHR investigators, who are encouraged to build or further develop a policy research package related to their NIHR funded projects (also referred to in this document as ‘originating project’). The new work strand should be proportionate to the duration and size of the original project. Proposals will need to demonstrate a clear connection with, and add value to, current NIHR funded work, but should also be able to: 

  1. stand as individual projects with limited dependency on the original NIHR contracts and;
  2. start almost immediately to exploit windows of opportunities.

11. The call will be open for NIHR investigators within an NIHR contract that, at the time of submission, has no more than 12 months left until its end date, or has been closed for no longer than 24 months. The proposal should clearly state the NIHR reference number of the originating contract, and the NIHR Programme that funded it. The PI will need to be a co-applicant in the original NIHR contract.

12. The funding could cover a wide range of areas, such as (but not limited to):

  • work to consider how emerging findings might be translated into policy options for the future; 
  • work to consider barriers and facilitators to effective implementation in the real-world; 
  • additional health economic, economic and social return on investment analysis;
  • cost/benefit analysis for scaling up interventions;
  • extension of existing work to consider new contexts or new/subgroups of the populations through secondary data analysis and/or longer follow-ups;
  • co-create a shared definition of a complex challenge which allows policymakers to understand the issue using the evidence, and build this understanding into policymaking;
  • reviews of existing evidence, working directly with policymakers to produce a proposed strategic direction; and
  • further work on novel methodological approaches that will enrich options for policy decision making, this could also include novel technological approaches.

13. The bullet points below give examples of the types of projects that could be in scope. These are illustrative, and applicants are not limited to these topics when applying:

  • research to consider how findings from studies on how households use takeaways and/or food delivery services could be translated into policy options for the future;
  • extending understanding of obesity prevention interventions into different underserved populations;
  • secondary or further analysis of data to examine health disparities and obesity;
  • research examining how weight management interventions or physical activity schemes, piloted at a local level, could be scaled up nationally;  
  • co-creation of a shared definition of cost effectiveness of local measures to tackle obesity which allows policymakers and Local Authorities to understand the issue and trade-offs; 
  • co-creation of a robust measure for assessing diet, which provides policymakers with a validated metric to assess the impact of interventions on improving diet;  
  • research to consider which behaviours are most likely to contribute to a healthier diet, and which behaviours individuals find most attainable;
  • building on the findings of evidence reviews of interventions which prevent obesity, to work with Local Authorities and policymakers to propose and set a strategic direction;
  • adaptation of how fiscal measures or incentives could be applied to healthy eating policy.

14. This call does not mandate any specific subject within healthy weight, obesity or food systems. Proposals should be aligned to current policy priorities or possible areas for future policy development. Applications will need to clearly reference relevant policy documents or documented policy priorities (e.g. Childhood Obesity: a plan for action; Childhood Obesity: a plan for action, chapter 2; Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives; Advancing our health: Prevention in the 2020s), and specify how the project would contribute to policymaking. Applicants must also demonstrate existing links and recent contact with relevant policy customers for their research to ensure their proposals are tractable. If applicants require assistance with this, please contact Natalie Owen (natalie.owen@dhsc.gov.uk) or Georgina Preston (georgina.preston@dhsc.gov.uk) at DHSC who can assist with identifying relevant policy contacts with whom to discuss their proposals. 

15. Proposals targeting the evidence needs of Local Authorities, and with clear potential for wider applicability, are particularly encouraged.

16. All research funded by the NIHR should contribute to reducing health inequalities, defined as the systematic differences in health which exist between different population groups, including but not limited to: socio-economic group, ethnicity, gender, disability and other protected groups. Research funded under this call should contribute towards equality in health outcomes. 

17. The call will not follow a standard two-stage submission process. Applicants will be required to submit a short application. Initial funding recommendations will be made based on the assessment of this short proposal. Successful applicants may be asked to submit a revised proposal containing more detail and address the questions and concerns raised by the PRP Funding Committee and DHSC.

18. Applications will be reviewed by the PRP Funding Committee, with input from policymakers and analysts. Specific selection criteria for this call will include: 

  • Policy relevance (demonstrated for example through documented endorsement by policy stakeholders).
  • Policy engagement (applicants need to explain how they propose to work with DHSC policy teams to refine research questions and ensure continued relevance).
  • Practice engagement (where appropriate, applicants need to explain how they propose to work with local government to ensure continued relevance and possibility/ease of implementation). 
  • Duration (projects need to be delivered within the short-medium term).
  • Readiness (applicants need to demonstrate proposed projects can start within weeks offunding decision).

19. Other standard PRP requirements will apply. For example, proposals will be expected to be methodologically sound and to integrate meaningful PPI where appropriate. At the sole discretion of DHSC, proposals that fail to secure funding at this stage, but are considered to be fundable by the Committee, may be considered for funding at a later stage should the need for the proposed research and outputs become more pressing and timely.

20. Proposals can also build on individual projects funded via larger overarching contracts (e.g. NIHR Research Schools and Applied Research Collaborations). At the time of submission, these individual projects will have to be already completed, and should not have been closed for more than 24 months. Proposals building on these projects will require a letter of support from the PI/Director of the originating award, confirming that the originating project meets the required criteria.

21. Early career researchers are encouraged to apply as project leads, as long as their proposal clearly includes senior, experienced support. More generally, proposals that offer personal development opportunities for junior researchers will be prioritised.

22. All applicants should clearly set out how they are considering equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in their research teams and PPI.

23. The ability to connect multiple NIHR contracts through a single policy research package will be considered an advantage.

Areas out of scope for this programme of work

24. This call welcomes proposals with a direct connection to research projects funded via any of the NIHR funding streams, with the exclusion of:

  • NIHR Academy Funding streams
  • NIHR Policy Research Units
  • NIHR Policy Research Programme contracts
  • NIHR Health Protection Research Units
  • NIHR Global Health investments

Technical requirements / Expertise required 

25. Applicants are strongly advised to consider the experience and expertise required to deliver the proposed work. In some circumstances, the set of skills required to move any previous related work forward will need to be different compared to the one that delivered the originating contract. Expertise in implementation research, stakeholder engagement, health economics, communication, behavioural science, for example, might be particularly relevant for a call like this

Outputs 

26. Applicants are asked to consider the timing and nature of deliverables in their proposals. Policymakers need research evidence to meet key policy decisions and timescales, so resources need to be flexible to meet these needs. A meeting to discuss policy needs with DHSC officials will be convened as a matter of priority following contracting. 

27. Expected outputs might include (but are not limited to):

  • Short policy briefing papers on topics of current high interest
  • Dissemination events tailored for the policy audience
  • Novel lines of enquiry for research of relevance to policymakers

28. Given the special nature of this call, consideration of novel approaches aimed at making findings accessible to a policy audience are strongly encouraged.

Budget and duration 

29. Projects can be funded at a cost of between £50,000 to £150,000, with a maximum duration of 18 months in the first instance.

30. Costings can include up to 100% full economic costing (FEC) but should exclude output VAT. Applicants are advised that value for money is one of the key criteria that peer reviewers and funding committee members will assess applications against.

Management arrangements

31. A research advisory group including, but not limited to, representatives of DHSC, other stakeholders, and the successful applicants for the research should be established. The advisory group will provide guidance, meeting regularly over the lifetime of the research. The successful applicants should be prepared to review research objectives with the advisory group, and to share emerging findings on an ongoing basis. They will be expected to:

  • Provide regular feedback on progress
  • Produce timely reports to the advisory group
  • Produce a final report for sign-off

32. Research contractors will be expected to work with nominated officials in DHSC, its partners and the NIHR. Key documents including, for example, research protocols, research instruments, reports and publications must be provided to DHSC in draft form allowing sufficient time for review.

The application

33. Given the relatively small amount of funding available per project, applicants are asked, in the first instance, to complete a short proposal outlining:

  • Rationale for the study (including links to existing NIHR research)
  • Aims and objectives
  • Policy relevance (including audience, current policy support and pathway to impact)
  • Project plan/ methodology (including a description of possible risks and mitigation strategies)
  • Dissemination plans and impact strategy (including policy and practice engagement)
  • Indicative costs and justification

34. Cumulative word limit for the technical details of the proposal is expected to be no more than 3000 words. This limit excludes references and other administrative information. To support the review process, applicants are encouraged to present their proposal following the headings listed in the previous point.