Wed, 8 Dec 2010
Researchers at the University of East Anglia will be part of a new programme of research funded by the Government to inform action to help people change health habits.
The Policy Research Unit on Behaviour and Health was announced in the Public Health White Paper this week. Based at the University of Cambridge, the unit is designed to help achieve sustained changes in behaviour that will lead to better health outcomes in all social groups.
The UEA researchers announced as members of the unit are Marc Suhrcke, Professor of Public Health Economics at UEA’s School of Medicine, and Daniel Zizzo, Head of UEA’s School of Economics.
Poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption are together responsible for the huge burden of chronic disease worldwide. They also contribute to the differences in life expectancy between the poorest and the richest in the UK and elsewhere. But while most people value their health, many persist in behaviour that undermines it. Enabling people to permanently change their health-related behaviour is something the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, has described as ‘the great challenge for public health’.
The new unit will contribute evidence to help to meet the public health challenge by initially focusing on diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption and looking in particular at our environments – where we live and work – to see what can be changed to prompt people to behave in ways that improve their health for the long term.
“Improving people’s health behaviour could bring huge health benefits but it remains hard to achieve,” said Prof Suhrcke.
“Economic analysis, which will be the focus of UEA’s contribution to the Policy Research Unit, has a lot to contribute to finding more effective and cost-effective ways of incentivising people to, for instance, drink more moderately, eat a healthier, be more physically active and smoke less.”
Prof Zizzo said: “There is a lot of policy discussion about the extent to which it is possible to use simple behavioural economics tools to nudge behaviour in desirable ways. The promise and challenge of the new research unit is then to determine the extent to which behavioural economics can help, in the context of promoting more healthy behaviour. This is also the specific contribution that UEA will be able to bring with its international leadership role in behavioural and experimental economics.”
The new Policy Research Unit on Behaviour and Health will receive funding from 2010-2015 from the Department of Health Policy Research Programme.