Life expectancy is rising for many across the globe. At the same time, low and middle income countries are experiencing increasing urbanisation, a changing diet and reduced physical activity.
This is leading to an increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes and obesity, which pose a growing threat to sustainable development, especially in countries where healthcare resources may be scarce. Around 75% of all deaths from NCDs, and 82% of premature death – that is, before the age of 70 – occur in low and middle income countries.
At the MRC Epidemiology Unit, we are a partner in the Wellcome Trust–Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research. We are developing a portfolio of work aimed at contributing to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases in low and middle income countries through intervening on the underlying determinants of physical inactivity and unhealthy diets.
The lead for global public health research at the Unit is Dr Nigel Unwin.
The Global Diet and Activity Research Group and Network (GDAR)
A significant amount of our work in this area will be taken forward through the Global Diet and Activity Research Group and Network (GDAR), which has recently been awarded funding by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
GDAR is new international research partnership to that will carry out research to help prevent non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which are a major and growing cause of death and disability in low and middle income countries. Two of the most important causes behind the increases in these diseases are unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity, both of which are associated with the rapid economic development that is taking place in these countries.
The GDAR group and network will generate evidence on the factors that lead to poor diet and physical inactivity, design and evaluate interventions to change these factors (also known as determinants), and use mathematical modelling to investigate the long-term health and economic effects of such
Community Food Production & Health (CFaH)
Developing theory and methods for evaluating the impact of community food initiatives on NCD risk, social and economic wellbeing and the environment. In St Vincent and the Grenadines and Fiji. More about CFaH.
Towards an Integrated Global Transport and Health Assessment Tool (TIGTHAT)
This project is laying the scientific foundations of a health impact assessment (HIA) tool that will be readily applied to a wide variety of urban settings in Low or Middle Income Countries (LMICs) to estimate health impacts of transport choices. More about TIGTHAT.
Technology and diabetes risk, Chennai, India
Recent estimates suggest there are 68 million people living with diabetes in India, the majority with type 2 diabetes. A mixture of poor diet and lack of exercise, low birth weight followed by rapid growth, and genetic pre-disposition – Indians tend to develop diabetes at a lower body-mass index (BMI) than Caucasians – means that diabetes is twice as common in India as it is in the UK.
At the MRC Epidemiology Unit, we are collaborating with the India Diabetes Research Foundation in a trial of a mobile phone based intervention design to change people’s behaviour and reduce their diabetes risk. Results so far have found that almost a third fewer men in the high risk group went on to develop diabetes if they received between two and four texts a week giving advice on diet and exercise.
- Read more in University of Cambridge Research Horizons magazine (pdf).