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.
The MRC Epidemiology Unit is a partner in the Wellcome Trust–Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research, and is 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.
Our approach builds on techniques, methods and expertise developed across our research programmes and at the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR). We have a number of international collaborations in low and middle income countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South and South East Asia, and China. In collaboration with partner institutions in these regions, we have four main goals:
Measuring behaviours. We will measure current levels and trends in physical activity and diet using combinations of objective and subjective methods. We will estimate the contribution of these behaviours to NCD illness and mortality, including their contribution relative to smoking and excess alcohol consumption.
Investigating determinants. We will investigate the social, environmental, economic and other factors that influence diet and physical activity behaviours. The evaluation of ‘natural experiments’ will play an important role in identifying determinants of diet and physical activity and in evaluating the impact of policy measures.
Informing and evaluating interventions. We will inform and evaluate interventions and policies designed to modify the determinants of diet and physical activity. We will use public health modelling to estimate the health impact and interaction of different interventions.
Building capacity. We will support researchers in low and middle income countries to undertake research and guide policy. We will establish a research capacity building network with collaborating institutions. Activities will include joint PhD supervision, post-doctoral training, provision of short courses, and staff and student exchanges.