The latest news from the MRC Epidemiology Unit
Welcome to the autumn 2023 issue of epigram, the quarterly newsletter.
To receive this email straight to your inbox, sign up at www.mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk/subscribe/
In this issue: the latest from our research studies, new genetic insights into how age and sex influence obesity, encouraging news on childhood obesity, inequalities in defibrillator access, as well as the latest commentary, events, publications and opportunities in our department.
News from our research studies
Celebrating 30 years of the EPIC-Norfolk study.
To mark over 30 years since the start of the EPIC-Norfolk study and celebrate the achievements of the study, we held an event in Norwich in September. Several hundred EPIC-Norfolk participants attended in-person and via a live webinar. The seminar ran twice in one day to accommodate all those who wanted to be there.
At the event, participants talked with students and post-docs who presented posters, and there was a series of short presentations starting with the history of EPIC-Norfolk by one of the study founders Professor Kay-Tee Khaw. They also heard from Steve Knighton and Dr Soren Brage about how we are carefully looking after and using samples and data; and from Professor Nita Forouhi about how recent technological developments are driving cutting edge and impactful science. There was then an entertaining panel discussion, which included the Chair of the EPIC Participant Advisory Panel, Peter Gibley, and an open question and answer session with the audience.
We thank EPIC-Norfolk study participants for their many years of engagement with the study. More information on the EPIC-Norfolk study.
Lift-off for Phase 3 of the Fenland Study
At the end of September we sent out the first invitations asking Fenland Study participants to be part of Phase 3 of the study. Over the next 18 months participants who visited our testing facilities in Cambridge, Ely and Wisbech between 2005 and 2015, and who agreed to be re-approached for future research, will be invited back to take part again.
For Fenland 3 we’re going digital, with a bespoke Fenland Study app that participants with compatible devices can use to complete questionnaires and some measurements at their own convenience. The app will also allow them to get detailed feedback on their own results direct to their phone, as well as keep up with all the latest news from the study.
Alternatively, participants can complete questionnaires at home using our online forms. If this is not possible, the option of completing questionnaires during the clinic visit is available.
Clinic visits will take place at one of our three testing facilities in Cambridgeshire, where many of the same measurements taken on Phases 1 & 2 will be repeated. These include collections of blood and urine samples, an oral glucose tolerance test, body measurements and scans, a fitness test, and blood pressure and ECG measurements.
Participants will also be asked to wear a wrist-worn activity monitor to measure their activity during their everyday life for 7 days prior to the clinic appointment.
Dr Kirsten Rennie, a Principle Investigator on the Fenland Study, said:
We’re very excited to start recruitment for Phase 3 of the Fenland study, and are looking forward to meeting again Fenland Study participants who have already contributed so much to our understanding of the interaction between environmental and genetic factors in determining obesity, type 2 diabetes, and related metabolic disorders.
In the Fenland Covid-19 study we showed that it was possible to use a smartphone app to collect signs and symptoms of Covid-19 infection in more than 2,000 Fenland Study participants. We hope that our new Fenland app will make taking part in the Fenland Study an even more rewarding experience for our participants.”
- Learn more about Fenland Phase 3
- Watch a short video below of Professor Nick Wareham introducing Fenland Phase 3
WRAP Trial wins Royal College of General Practitioners paper of the year award
The WRAP trial, led by Dr Amy Ahern, studied the long-term impact of two durations of a commercial weight-loss programme (WeightWatchers) on weight, type 2 diabetes and obesity-related diseases in 1,267 people with overweight or obesity, compared to standard care.
In the video below WRAP Trial chief investigator Dr Amy Ahern discusses their findings, which indicate that the assumption that all weight lost with commercial weight management programmes is regained within five years is incorrect, and the implications this has for healthcare costs. Read more.
Understanding nutrition and health
New study examines dietary change during transition from school to further education or work
Recruitment has begun for the Diet and Eating Behaviours Across Early Adulthood Transitions (DEBEAT) study. DEBEAT is investigating changes in diet and how these relate to factors that influence diet across the transition from school to further education or employment.
DEBEAT wave 1 planned aims to recruit a sample of 1,500 participants, all in Year 13 of school or college, from across England. These will then be followed up one year later, after they have left school, to see how their diet and dietary determinants have changed.
This follows the successful completion of a pilot study in May this year, which recruited 106 participants aged 17/18, just over the target of 100 participants. Participants in the pilot study completed three rounds of Intake24, an open source online 24-hour dietary assessment tool based on the 24-hour recall method, and four short questionnaires about dietary determinants. 76% of those who completed the baseline questionnaire went through to complete the full study.
If you have any friends or relatives who are in Y13 in September, do let them know about the study, the team would very much appreciate their participation!
Beyond taste and nutrient content: Ultra-Processed Foods and their Impact on Adolescent Health in the UK
Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) have been getting a lot of attention recently. In a blog post for the NIHS School for Public Health Research, MRC Epidemiology Unit reseachers Dr Yanaina Chavez-Ugalde, Dr Andrea Smith, Dr Luiza Ricardo and Dr Esther van Sluijs make the case for greater involvement of adolescents in UPF research and policymaking. Read more.
Are plant-based meat alternatives a nutritionally sound alternative to meat? A comment on recent findings
Dr Daniel Borch Ibsen, then a Research Associate with the MRC Epidemiology Unit, wrote an article for the Cambridge Global food Security blog responding to the results of a recent analysis that questioned if plant-based meat alternatives can directly replace meats as a source of nutrients. Read more.
Improving child health
Levels of overweight and obesity in preschool children stable or declining in several high income countries
An international team of researchers examined recent trends in early childhood body mass index (BMI) from five countries.
They found levels obesity and overweight to be steady or decreasing in young children in four high-income countries; Australia, England, Germany and New Zealand. By contrast, in South Africa, an upper middle income country, they found a substantial rise in early childhood overweight, from 19-20% in 1999-2005 to 38-41% in 2012-18.
The researchers recommend several measures to increase the rate of decline in high income countries, and reduce the rise in middle-income countries. These include regulation of marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to young children, greater support for breastfeeding and healthy infant feeding, investment in built environment to facilitate physical activity, and ensuring that schools and nurseries play a central role in these interventions. Read more.
The importance of (risky) play: promoting child physical activity, mental health and family wellbeing
In blog post for the NIHS School for Public Health Research, MRC Epidemiology Unit reseachers Dr Andrea Smith, Dr Kathryn Hesketh and Dr Esther van Sluijs join Professor Helen Dodd of the University of Exeter in a blog post examining the importance of adventurous play for children’s physical, mental and social development. With participation in such risky play decreasing, they highlight the need to identify new ways to promote and facilitate it. Read more.
10 tips to help your wellbeing this summer
Summer may now be a distant memory, but in July MRC Epidemiology Unit PhD student Lauren Cross teamed up with Professor Tamsin Ford of the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry and students from Northgate Primary School to draw up 10 tips for young people on building wellbeing during the summer holidays. Read more.
Taking equality to heart
Distances to defibrillators are greater in more deprived neighbourhoods of England and Scotland
MRC Epidemiology Unit scientist Dr Thomas Burgoine co-led research which found that in England and Scotland, but not in Wales, the distances to the nearest 24/7 accessible automated external defibrillator were greater in more deprived neighbourhoods.
Using data from The Circuit: the national defibrillator network, the researchers calculated the average road distance to a defibrillator with 24/7 public access in Great Britain’s 1.7 million postcodes, and studied the relationship between the distance to a defibrillator and an area’s level of deprivation. They found that people living in the most deprived areas of England and Scotland are on average 99 and 317 metres further away from their nearest 24/7 defibrillator than those in the least deprived areas, respectively. The findings were widely reported in UK news outlets, including the BBC, Guardian, Daily Mail, Times, Mirror, Independent and Herald. Read more.
Insights from our genes
Identifying novel sex- and age-specific gene variants that influence obesity risk
From influencing how our body stores fat to how our brain regulates appetite, hundreds of genes, along with environmental factors, collectively determine our weight and body size.
By examining the genomes of more than 400,000 UK Biobank participants, Unit PhD student Lena Kaisinger and colleagues identified several gene variants which have large effects on obesity risk, including three that are implicated in the development of obesity in women but not men. They also identified variations in two genes that are associated with childhood body size. While carriers of variants in the gene known as OBSCN were at greater risk of having higher weight as a child, those carrying variants in the MADD gene had smaller body sizes.
Their findings highlight the importance of considering sex-specific & life-course effects in the genetic regulation of obesity, and identify a potential role in regulating body size for genes previously identified as having a role in responding to DNA damage. Read more.
How equal are the impacts of cycling investments?
In an episode of the UCL Linking our Lives podcast, Dr Richard Patterson discusses his research investigating whether there are differences between urban areas in the impact of funding to support cycling. Listen to the podcast.
The best medicine for cities
Dr Tolullah Oni joined BBC Radio 4’s Best Medicine show to discuss how you treat an entire city like a patient. Listen on BBC Sounds.
Why health and wellbeing should be at centre of urban planning
In a Guardian article Dr Haneen Khreis comments on the burden of poor respiratory health due to current urban and transport policies, and her new research examining how low emission zones in countries across Europe reduce air pollution. Read the Guardian article.
Opportunities at the Unit
Database Specialist (Fixed Term)
We are seeking a Data Manager to join the MRC Epidemiology Unit working within the Unit’s Data Management Team providing database development and operational support for epidemiological research studies. The work focuses on the collection, processing, distribution and management of data. The successful candidate will use database and programming techniques to carry out processing tasks such as data cleaning, verification and validation, provide ongoing maintenance, develop and deploy custom databases.
- Closing date 29 October 2023
- Full details
HR Administration Assistant
Do you have administration background and enjoy working in a customer focused role? We’re looking for the right person to join the HR team in a new role to support the HR Coordinators in our friendly, fast-paced Business Team. The role holder will assist with all elements of human resources, recruitment and visiting worker administration, supporting the HR Coordinators, Business and Finance Manager, and PhD Student Coordinator.
- Closing date 05 November 2023
- Full details
Research Associate (Fixed Term)
We are offering an exciting opportunity to join a vibrant research group at a leading university, to contribute to important research on the characterization of dynamic environmental exposures that contribute to public health. We are seeking to appoint a Research Associate, with a track record of using geographical information systems (GIS), and a strong quantitative background, to work on the research project “AI-enabled targeting of public health interventions through dynamic characterization of the environment”, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
- Closing date 8 November 2023
- Full details
Our latest publications
Our commitment to Open Access
It’s International Open Access Week, and the theme for 2023 is Community. The MRC Epidemiology Unit is committed to Open Access and to making our research more accessible, equitable, transparent and reproducible.
As we’ve previously reported, the MRC Epidemiology Unit supports innovation in research in practice, and we have several Open Access resources available on our website: www.mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk/research/publications-and-resources/
We aim for all MRC Epidemiology Unit-led papers to be fully available through Open Access as we continue to break down any barriers to knowledge.
You can find all publications from the MRC Epidemiology Unit on our Publications Database: https://publications.mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk/
You can search by journal, year, study, programme, Unit author, and keywords in the title and abstract.
Since the last issue of epigram, our researchers have published the following papers:
- Using systems thinking to generate novel research questions for the evaluation of sugar-sweetened beverage taxation policies Alvarado M et al. BMJ Glob Health
- Shared and distinct genetic etiologies for different types of clonal hematopoiesis Brown DW et al. Nat Commun
- Automated external defibrillator location and socioeconomic deprivation in Great Britain Burgoine T et al. Heart (BMJ)
- Proteomic analysis of 92 circulating proteins and their effects in cardiometabolic diseases Carland C et al. Clin Proteomics
- Policy networks and competing interests in the development of the Mexican sugary sweetened beverages tax Carriedo A et al. BMJ Glob Health
- Type 2 diabetes remission trajectories and variation in risk of diabetes complications: A population-based cohort study Dambha-Miller H et al. PLoS One
- The UK government’s 2022 food strategy a year later Doherty B et al. Nat Food
- A multi-country comparison of jurisdictions with and without mandatory nutrition labelling policies in restaurants: analysis of behaviors associated with menu labelling in the 2019 International Food Policy Study Essman M et al. Public Health Nutr
- Alcohol consumption and cancer incidence in women: interaction with smoking, body mass index and menopausal hormone therapy Floud S et al. BMC Cancer
- The conceptualisation and operationalisation of ‘marketing’ in public health research: a review of reviews focused on food marketing using principles from critical interpretive synthesis Forde H et al. BMC Public Health
- Omega-6 fatty acid biomarkers and incident atrial fibrillation: an individual participant-level pooled analysis of 11 international prospective studies Garg PK et al. Am J Clin Nutr
- Feasibility of a randomised controlled trial of financial incentives to promote alternative travel modes to the car Garrott K et al. J Transp Health
- Understanding the links between human health, ecosystem health, and food systems in Small Island Developing States using stakeholder-informed causal loop diagrams Guariguata L et al. PLOS Glob Public Health
- Changing mobility practices. Can meta-ethnography inform transferable and policy-relevant theory? Guell C et al. Soc Sci Med
- Greater male variability in daily energy expenditure develops through puberty Halsey LG et al. Biol Lett
- ADRA2A and IRX1 are putative risk genes for Raynaud’s phenomenon Hartmann S et al. Nat Commun
- The law of diminishing returns? The challenge of using freedom of information legislation for health policy research Hawkins B et al. Critical Public Health
- Brexit, Trade and the Governance of Non-communicable Diseases: A Research Agenda Hawkins B et al. Glob Health
- Activity behaviours before and during pregnancy are associated with women’s device-measured physical activity and sedentary time in later parenthood: longitudinal cohort analysis Hesketh KR et al. J Phys Act Health
- Risk factors for anemia among women and their young children hospitalized with suspected thiamine deficiency in northern Lao PDR Hess SY et al. Matern Child Nutr
- Socioeconomic distribution of food outlet availability through online food delivery services in seven European countries: A cross-sectional study Hoenink JC et al. Health Place
- Association between Built Environment attributes and Strava speeds and volumes in the Greater Manchester region Itova I et al. Science Talks
- Industry views of the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy: a thematic analysis of elite interviews with food and drink industry professionals, 2018-20 Jones C et al. BMJ Open
- National Diet and Nutrition Survey data reveal a decline in folate status in the UK population between 2008 and 2019 Jones KS et al. Am J Clin Nutr
- Large-scale exome sequence analysis identifies sex- and age-specific determinants of obesity Kaisinger LR et al. Cell Genom
- Previous fracture and subsequent fracture risk: a meta-analysis to update FRAX Kanis JA et al. Osteoporos Int
- Understanding the role of the state in dietary public health policymaking: a critical scoping review Karreman N et al. Health Promo Int
- A Longitudinal Area Classification of Migration in Great Britain –Testing the application of Group-Based Multi-Trajectory Modelling Kienast Von Einem C et al. Pop Space Place
- Replacing device-measured sedentary time with physical activity is associated with lower risk of coronary heart disease regardless of genetic risk Kim Y et al. J Int Med
- Comment on Baranova et al. Causal Associations Between Basal Metabolic Rate and COVID-19. Diabetes 2023;72:149–154 Kloechker DE et al. Diabetes
- A randomised study of nurse collected venous blood and self-collected dried blood spots for the assessment of cardiovascular risk factors in the Understanding Society Innovation Panel Kumari M et al. Sci Rep
- Dietary intervention in gestational diabetes: a qualitative study of the acceptability and feasibility of a novel whole-diet intervention in healthcare professionals Kusinski LC et al. Br J Nutr
- Towards Novel Nutritional Strategies in Gestational Diabetes: Eating Behaviour and Obesity in Women with Gestational Diabetes Compared with Non-Pregnant Adults Kusinski LC et al. Nutrients
- GWAS of random glucose in 476,326 individuals provide insights into diabetes pathophysiology, complications and treatment stratification Lagou V et al. Nat Genet
- Validation of the Fatty Liver Index for Identifying Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in a Kenyan population Lajeunesse-Trempe F et al. Trop Med Int Health
- Biological and functional multimorbidity-from mechanisms to management Langenberg C et al. Nat Med
- Understanding the spatiotemporal evolution of opioid overdose events using a regionalized sequence alignment analysis Li Y et al. Soc Sci Med
- Behavioural susceptibility theory: the role of appetite in genetic susceptibility to obesity in early life Llewellyn CH et al. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci
- High but decreasing prevalence of overweight in preschool children: encouragement for further action Maessen SE et al. BMJ
- Life Course Epidemiology Applied to Physical Activity Research Mielke GI et al. J Phys Act Health
- Assessing the health impacts of changes in active transport: an updated systematic review Mizdrak A et al. J Transp Health
- Effects of 2-year dietary and physical activity intervention on cognition in children—a nonrandomized controlled trial Naveed S et al. Scand J Med Sci Sports
- Associations of Appetitive Traits with Growth Velocities from Infancy to Childhood Olwi DI et al. Sci Rep
- Co-design and content validity of the Movement Measurement in the Early Years (MoveMEY) tool for assessing movement behaviour of pre-school aged children Phillips SM et al. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act
- Omega-3 Fatty Acid Biomarkers and Incident Atrial Fibrillation Qian F et al. J Am Coll Cardiol
- Real-world application of a scalable school-based physical activity intervention: a cross-sectional survey of the implementation of The Daily Mile in Greater London primary schools Ram B et al. PLoS One
- Neighbourhood Walkability and Its Influence on Physical Activity and Cardiometabolic Disease: A Cross-Sectional Study in a Caribbean Small Island Developing State Rocke KD et al. Cureus
- Implementation of risk stratification within bowel cancer screening: a community jury study exploring public acceptability and communication needs Taylor LC et al. BMC Public Health
- Dietary amino acids and risk of stroke subtypes: a prospective analysis of 356,000 participants in seven European countries Tong TYN et al. Eur J Nutr
- Genetic insights into resting heart rate and its role in cardiovascular disease van de Vegte YJ et al. Nat Commun
- Circulating metabolites modulated by diet are associated with depression van der Spek A et al. Mol Psychiatry
- Genetic impacts on DNA methylation help elucidate regulatory genomic processes Villicaña S et al. Genome Biol
- Exome sequencing identifies breast cancer susceptibility genes and defines the contribution of coding variants to breast cancer risk Wilcox N et al. Nat Genet
- Genetic risk, adherence to healthy lifestyle and acute cardiovascular and thromboembolic complications following SARS-COV-2 infection Xie J et al. Nat Commun
- The optimal healthy ranges of thyroid function defined by the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality: systematic review and individual participant data meta-analysis Xu Y et al. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol
- Converging evidence from exome sequencing and common variants implicates target genes for osteoporosis Zhou S et al. Nat Genet
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