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Public Health and Prevention research

The NIHR is the nation's largest funder of health and care research and provides the people, facilities and technology that enable research to thrive. We work in partnership with the NHS, universities, local government, other research funders (including industry and charities), patients and the public to improve the health and wealth of the nation. 

The NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) Programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, Health and Care Research Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

The NIHR School for Public Health Research undertakes research into public health, with an emphasis on what works practically, can be applied across the country and better meets the needs of policy makers, practitioners and the public.

In 2018/19, the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supported 164 public health and prevention studies, 59 of which were new studies, and recruited 97,571 patients to studies within this specialty area.

Our studies

Reducing portion sizes for takeaway food

Researchers funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research have worked with fish and chip wholesaler to encourage takeaways to offer smaller portions to customers, in a bid to combat obesity.

The study, part of the Transforming the ‘Foodscape’ programme of research, showed that fish and chip shops were open to promoting healthier meal options to customers, and customers were happy to purchase smaller portions.

The wholesaler subsequently developed smaller meal packaging that is now available in over 250 fish and chip shops, with sales data suggesting that these smaller portions are popular and rapidly becoming an established menu item.

Effect of street lights on road traffic crashes and crime

An estimated £300m is spent every year on street lights in the UK. The LANTERNS project explored whether reducing night-time street light for environmental and energy reasons, has any impact on road traffic crashes and crime.

The researchers, funded by the NIHR Public Health Research programme, analysed 14 years of data from 62 local authorities across England and Wales who had implemented a range of reduced street light strategies. They found no evidence of an association between reduced street lighting and night-time collisions or increased crime across England and Wales.

The research suggests that local authorities can safely reduce street lighting at night, saving energy costs and reducing carbon emissions, however any street light reductions should be carefully planned by local authorities.

Influence of parental concerns on uptake of child flu vaccine

Parental concerns around safety and side effects may negatively influence uptake of the child flu vaccine, funded by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response. 

Of the 1001 parents and guardians surveyed during this study, only 53 per cent reported that their child had been vaccinated in the 2015 to 2016 flu season. Over a third (38 per cent) felt they didn’t know enough about the vaccine.

The research shows the importance of considering  how public health messages are communicated, such as emphasising the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing flu and highlighting the serious complications associated with the illness itself.

Link between obesity, other metabolic risk factors and heart disease

Research supported by NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre and the NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Unit in Donor Health and Genomics at University of Cambridge has shown that people with certain metabolic risk factors who are obese are two and a half times as likely to develop heart disease as healthy people of normal weight. But those who are obese without these other risk factors still have a 28% increased risk of heart disease compared with healthy people of normal weight.

This large-scale observational research, which tracked over 17,000 people in Europe for over 12 years, gives new insights into risk factors for heart disease. Findings suggest that prevention strategies should tackle all risk factors for people who are overweight or obese.

Born in Bradford (BiB)

Born in Bradford is one of the biggest and most important medical research studies undertaken in the UK.

The project started in 2007 and is looking to answer questions about our health by tracking the lives of 13,500 babies and their families and will provide information for studies across the UK and around the world.

The aim of Born in Bradford is to find out more about the causes of childhood illness by studying children from all cultures and backgrounds as their lives unfold.

Cognitive Function and Ageing Study II (CFAS II)

Dementia and frailty are major consequences of the ageing population - presenting challenges to policy makers and service providers around planning and providing for the needs of older people. The MRC Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (MRC CFAS) began in the late 1980s with the initial aim of investigating dementia and cognitive decline in a representative sample of 18,500 people over the age of 65 years.

Effective care planning for the ageing population needs to recognise factors around diversity and inequality and is dependent on contemporary information and understanding about health status and risk factors in the total older population. However the data from MRC CFAS is now decades old - leading to the daughter study, CFAS II.

CFAS II aimed to assess and update the body of knowledge around the generational nature of dementia and ascertain whether it has changed - answering the question: 'Age for age, has dementia become more or less common for a given age or sex?' 

Investigators collected data from three MRC CFAS sites (Cambridgeshire, Newcastle and Nottingham) to enable geographical and generational comparisons to be made with the baseline data from these sites (called CFAS I). The study provided valuable data around a number of important areas related to cognitive function and ageing - including incidence and prevalence of dementia, dementia risk, cognitive impairment, healthy life expectancy, social isolation, disability, mortality and frailty.

Find a public health and prevention study in your area

You can find out more about public health and prevention studies in your area through the Be Part of Research website.

Our support

We provide world-class health service infrastructure - research support staff such as clinical research nurses, and research support services such as pharmacy, pathology and radiology - to support organisations seeking to conduct clinical research in the NHS in England. Some of this research is funded by the NIHR, but most of it is funded by NHS non-commercial partners and industry.

We support the set up and delivery of clinical research in the NHS through our Study Support Service and our Research Design Service helps researchers develop proposals to secure funding from our research programmes.

Support for public health research

The Public Health Specialty supports research intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. This means we support and promote a wide range of research, including studies relating to:

  • Obesity
  • Lifestyle (diet; smoking; alcohol; substance misuse)
  • Chronic Disease Prevention
  • Screening
  • Mental Health and wellbeing
  • Environment
  • Sustainable Development
  • Health Inequalities
  • Social Determinants of health

Many of these studies take place outside of traditional clinical environments, across a wide range of health and social care settings - for example in schools or other community settings.

National Public Health Specialty Group

Each of our 15 Local Clinical Research Networks has at least one nominated local research lead for Public Health. These research leads promote and support public health research across health and care settings in their area.


Public Health Specialty Profile

The Public Health Specialty profile gives an overview of the services we offer.

Process summary for urgent public health risk research

In the event of an urgent public health outbreak (eg a pandemic) the Clinical Research Network must be able to rapidly set-up relevant research studies and ensure that these studies are successfully conducted so that their findings can inform the on-going care of patients during the outbreak. This document summarises the Network's response process.

Our stakeholders

The NIHR Clinical Research Network Public Health specialty group works closely with these organisations in integrating clinical research into NHS clinical service provision, and in driving priority setting that encourages research that will have the greatest impact on the public.  

The CRN Public Health National Specialty Group includes representatives from a range of stakeholders including the Faculty of Public Health (FPH)Society for Social Medicine (SSM)Public Health EnglandThe Association of Directors of Public Health and we are open to welcoming other partners and stakeholders who can support our work to develop the NIHR CRN Public Health portfolio. 

Faculty for Public Health

The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) is the professional home for more than 3,300 professionals working in public health. Members come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds (including clinical, academic, policy) and are employed in a variety of settings, usually working at a strategic or specialist level.

Society for Social Medicine

Social medicine is the study of health in its widest sense. It recognizes the broad determinants of health – income and poverty, education, environmental factors such as housing and transport – as well as health care and genetic influences. The Society for Social Medicine (SSM) aims to promote the development of scientific knowledge in social medicine. This covers a range of subjects including epidemiology, the medical and health needs of society, the provision and organization of health services and the prevention of disease.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) 

The NIHR collaborates with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on NIHR Health Protection Research Units (HPRUs). HPRUs are research partnerships between universities and the UK Health Security Agency, and act as centres of excellence in multidisciplinary health protection research in England.

Our facilities

The NIHR provides the support and facilities the NHS needs for first-class research by funding a range of infrastructure.

NIHR Health Protection Research Units

NIHR Health Protection Research Units (HPRUs) are research partnerships between universities and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The units act as centres of excellence in multidisciplinary health protection research in England. The total amount of NIHR funding available for HPRUs is £58.7 million over a five year period, starting 1 April 2020. 

The HPRUs are:


The HPRU Development Award: The Centre for Environment Health and Sustainability (CEHS) at Leicester University  is a recipient of a Health Protection Research Unit Development Award from NIHR, and collaborates in this with the UK Health Security Agency (UK HSA) on the topic of Environmental Exposures and Health. NIHR HPRU Development Award in Environmental Exposures and Health at University of Leicester.


NIHR School for Public Health Research

The NIHR School for Public Health Research undertakes research into public health, with an emphasis on what works practically, can be applied across the country and better meets the needs of policy makers, practitioners and the public.

Clinical Practice Research Datalink

The Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) is a UK Government research service, jointly supported by the NIHR and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, that provides access to anonymised NHS data for observational and interventional public health research.

Work with our infrastructure

All of the NIHR facilities and centres are opening to working with the public, charities, industry and other partners. If you are interested in collaborating with the NIHR please contact the NIHR Office for Clinical Research infrastructure: 

Our people

The NIHR funds and supports world-class experts in the field of public health. In addition, our experts in the NIHR Clinical Research Network National Specialty Group  can advise on delivering your public health study in health and care settings.

Professor Ashley Adamson

Professor Ashley Adamson is the Director of the NIHR School for Public Health Research. The School undertakes research into public health with an emphasis on what works practically, can be applied across the country and better meets the needs of policy makers, practitioners and the public.

Professor Adamson is Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Newcastle University and Director of Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. In 2009 she joined the Institute of Health & Society where she leads the Public Health Improvement research theme. She was awarded a personal chair in 2010, Fellowship of Faculty of Public Health in 2011 and an NIHR Research Professorship in 2012. Professor Adamson was appointed Director of Fuse in 2016.

Dr Jane West

Dr Jane West is the NIHR Clinical Research Network National Specialty Lead for Public Health.

Dr West has been the joint Specialty Lead for public health in Yorkshire and Humber since October 2014, a role she shares with Jo Cooke and continues alongside her national role.

Dr West currently holds a MRC post-doctoral Population Health Scientist Fellowship for work with the Born in Bradford cohort study and is an honorary Research Fellow within the School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol. She maintains strong links with local government public health and holds an honorary contract with Bradford District Metropolitan Council.

Dr West is a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health and a registered practitioner with the UKPHR. Prior to public health specialty training, she was a clinical and research midwife within the NHS.


Related Specialties


Health Services Research

Mental Health

Primary care