Durham University

Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing


SPHR Studentships - Now accepting applications

(26 April 2018)

Applications are now being accepted for the NIHR School for Public Health Research Studentships; two of which are being offered by Wolfson Fellows (outlined below). 

For full details of all studentships please visit the NIHR Studentship page 
To apply, please find the application pack here. 

Tackling inequalities in diet, physical activity and obesity in the early years (i.e. before a child goes to school) is a key priority for policy and Local Authorities in the UK. The aim of this PhD is to gain a greater understanding of the impact of interventions which aim to tackle this problem, and explore the broader factors which contribute to success. These broader factors* include social and emotional development, speech, language and communication development, cultural perceptions, co-production of the intervention, and partnership relationships between those delivering the intervention.
The A Better Start programme is an area-based initiative (https://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/research/a-better-start) which focusses on three themes, one of which is to tackle inequalities in diet, physical activity, and obesity in the early years. It takes place through five partnerships with local services in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend. Each partnership develops and tests a suite of interventions. A Better Start is being evaluated by a team of researchers https://www.abetterstart.org.uk/, and this includes collecting data in the five partnership areas and their control sites. This evaluation includes the assessment of height, weight and dietary intake, but not physical activity (Barlow et al, BMJ Open 2017 Aug 28;7(8):e015086). 
Proposed Research approach: The PhD candidate will begin by conducting two rapid reviews; one on methods of assessment of physical activity in the early years, and the other on the broader factors* that may influence the impact of interventions on inequalities in diet, physical activity and obesity in the early years.
The PhD candidate will also conduct a review of the interventions being delivered by A Better Start which aim to tackle inequalities in diet, physical activity and obesity in the early years, and map these to relevant policy and guidance in the early years in the UK.

Mental illness is the single largest cause of disability in England, which costs the economy £105 billion each year. Although one in four people suffer from mental illness, only 13% of the NHS budget is spent on it (House of Commons Library 2017a). Whilst there is huge unmet need for treatment, to reduce the burden of disease in the longer term, preventative measures need to be strengthened (Department of Health 2017).
Ethnic minorities have higher rates of physical and mental ill health than the White British population particularly in terms of ‘common mental disorders’ (CMD) (House of Commons Library 2017b). Previous research has suggested that social networks (potentially mediated by other factors such as area-level deprivation and neighbourhood ethnic density) may protect against higher rates of physical ill health amongst ethnic minorities. However, there has been no research in England to date that has examined the potential effects of social networks on mental ill health. This PhD will fill this gap.
Social networks include relationships with family and friends, the local community and civic engagement. It can be protective for mental health as people support each other, exchange resources, and benefit from interactions (Li 2016). Social networks vary by ethnicity, education and gender and may therefore influence the intersectional nature of health inequalities in England (Gkiouleka, A et.al, 2018). Social networks may provide a way in which inequalities in mental health can be reduced or prevented – via an assets based approach.
This PhD programme will assess how social networks affect inequalities in mental health amongst ethnic minorities in the UK using a sequential mixed methods paradigm to identify opportunities for preventative policy interventions.