Welcome to the spring 2023 issue of epigram, the quarterly newsletter from the MRC Epidemiology Unit.
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In this issue:
- Being active: do what you can…and a little more
- Making connections between genes and health
- Building healthier cities
- Improving diets in small island states
- Towards better reporting of health research
- Cambridge Festival 2023
- Opportunities at the Unit
- Our latest publications
Being active: do what you can…and a little more
Daily 11 minute brisk walk enough to reduce risk of early death
Analysis of data from more than 30 million people by research team led by Unit researchers Dr Soren Brage and Dr James Woodcock found that one in ten early deaths could be prevented if everyone managed at least half the 150 minutes moderate-intensity activity a week recommended by the NHS.
The researchers found that outside of work-related physical activity, two out of three people reported activity levels below 150 min per week of moderate-intensity activity, and fewer than one in ten managed more than 300 min per week. For those doing more than 150 min per week of moderate-intensity activity, the additional benefits in terms of reduced risk of disease or early death were marginal.
But even half this amount had real benefits. Just 75 min per week brought a 23% lower risk of early death, and the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers is also reduced. Read more.
This paper was very widely reported, with articles on BBC News online, Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Independent, Sun, Express, Evening Standard, CNN, Washington Post and El Pais. Dr James Woodcock was interviewed by BBC News 24 and Radio Kildare, and Soren Brage was interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland and Naked Scientists/BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
Making links between genes and health
Genetic variants influencing human fertility identified in study of nearly 800,000 individuals
Unit scientists Dr Felix Day and Professor John Perry, with colleagues at the MRC Epidemiology Unit and Universities of Oxford, Pennsylvania and Groningen, used data from nearly 800,000 UK Biobank participants to identify variants in 43 regions of the human genome associated with reproductive success, defined as the number of children ever born to an individual.
These variants influence both reproductive biology & human behaviour, and the researchers found that there are some trade-offs across the life-course, an example being the gene ARHGAP27. Variations altering the protein it produces were associated with having more children, but also a shorter lifetime window of fertility.
By integrating modern & ancient genome data, they also identified a region of the human genome that’s been influenced by natural selection for thousands of years, and is still under selection today. Read more.
Identification of disease-causing proteins leads to new potential treatments for diseases like diabetes
The risk of most human diseases increases or decreases with natural variations in the genome, but in many cases the mechanism through which the gene variation influences health is not known. To identify proteins that might contribute to the onset of common, chronic metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, a team of researchers led by Mine Koprulu, a Gates scholar and PhD student at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, and Professor Claudia Langenberg of the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité analysed more than a thousand blood samples from the EPIC-Norfolk study using a new approach combining antibody-based protein analysis and genome-wide association studies.
The researchers found more than 500 connections between genes, proteins and diseases, opening the door to more targeted and ultimately successful treatment options in the future. For example, they showed for the first time that people with high levels of a hormone called GRP are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, most likely because it decreases the chances of becoming overweight. This ‘proteogenomic’ evidence supports GRP as a potential target for the prevention and/or treatment of diabetes. Read more.
Building healthier cities
Planting more trees could reduce premature heat-related deaths in European cities by a third
In this The Conversation UK article Dr Meelan Thondoo, who works on the GDARspaces project at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, joins Professor Mark Nieuwenhuijsen and PhD researcher Tamara Iungman of Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) to discuss evidence from their new research examining if increasing tree coverage can reduce premature deaths caused by high temperatures in European cities. Read more.
New evidence map and tools launched to support policies to reduce traffic-related air pollution
Researchers led by Dr Haneen Khreis at the MRC Epidemiology Unit have created an interactive systematic evidence map of urban policy interventions to reduce traffic-related emissions and air pollution. Researchers, practitioners and policymakers can use this resource to discover more about the effectiveness of over 1000 policy scenarios, and help plan interventions in their own regions and cities.
Cities across the globe are hotspots for human exposure to air pollution, which in many regions comes largely from traffic. As urban populations continue to grow, more and more people are being exposed to traffic-related air pollution and its severe health effects.
In many cities there is therefore both a need and possibility for improvement in air quality through targeted policy interventions. Using these freely available online tools, researchers, practitioners, policymakers and third sector organisations can explore the effectiveness of different interventions and policy scenarios, and help plan for interventions in their urban areas – including options that they may not have been previously aware off. For example, an intervention not currently considered in one country may be well documented in another.
- Read more here.
- Watch a short video about the evidence map below:
Improving diets in small island states
International research partnership seeks to provide evidence for better nutrition and ecological health in small island states
MRC Epidemiology Unit researchers are participating in a new National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) project that is investing £2.9 million into research in the Caribbean, Pacific and Philippines that aims to improve population nutrition through ecologically sustainable local food production.
The project will provide new evidence on the burdens of diet related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, and on food production practices, and is co-led by the University of Exeter in the UK and the University of the West Indies in Barbados, who will work with the University of Cambridge and academic and civil society partners in Fiji, the Caribbean, and Philippines. They will work closely with local food producers and retailers, and with local communities, to co-design and evaluate interventions for better household nutrition. The interventions will be designed to be economically, socially and ecologically sustainable. Read more.
Towards better reporting of health research
Science journals update guidelines after study highlights incomplete reporting of complex interventions
Unit researchers have called on scientific journals to amend their submission guidelines after their analysis identified numerous papers reporting complex interventions that had been published with crucial information missing. This missing information is a challenge to any researchers who are interested in implementing these interventions in other settings, but policy makers and practitioners also depend on studies being fully reported.
Their call follows an analysis of reports from trials evaluating new school-based programmes to increase the amount of children’s physical exercise. The analysis found that almost all of these reports left out key details about how teachers had been trained to deliver the interventions, and they found that more than 98% of these studies failed to include information specified by a free public checklist of the minimum list of recordable items required to ensure that findings can be used and replicated.
They then contacted the senior editors of each of the journals in which these studies were published and asked them to update their guidelines. 27 of the 33 responded, with seven having updated their guidelines. The authors hope the others will soon follow suit, pointing out that the 2013 Declaration of Helsinki identifies full reporting as an “ethical obligation” for researchers, authors, editors and publishers. Read more.
Cambridge Festival 2023
The 2023 Cambridge Festival ran from 17 March – 2 April, with a wide range of activities and events for all ages. Unit researchers participated in several events, including two talks and an interactive event for families. Thanks to all our volunteers, and everyone who joined our activities!
Can we tell your health fortune? Can you outrun it?
How much exercise do you need to do to burn off the energy in one sugar cube? Did you know that molecules in blood can tell us what people eat and drink, their health, and even their future risk of developing heart disease or diabetes? How can our neighbourhoods influence what we eat? Nine Unit volunteers delivered three activities that explored these questions at our stand at the family drop-in event at Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology on 18 March, with about 100 families participating in our activities over the course of the day.
The crisis in mental health in young women and girls: does our education system make it worse?
Unit PhD student Lauren Cross participated in a Cambridge Festival hybrid panel discussion on 27 March with Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Professor Tamsin Ford, chaired by Murray Edwards College President Dorothy Byrne. The discussion examined why girls and young women are suffering levels of stress and anxiety so far in excess of those their mothers and grandmothers experienced, and what part stress at school and university plays in this
Growing up in a changing environment – What really influences what young people eat?
At this in person Cambridge Festival talk on 29 March Unit researchers Dr Eleanor Winpenny, Dr Tiago Canelas and Mr Struan Tait discussed the food choices of adolescents and young adults, and the wide range of factors that may influence the food eaten across this period of life.
They shared their research from the UK and abroad, focusing on young people’s diets and the influence of changing home, institutional and built environments, and introduced the DEBEAT study. The DEBEAT team are currently recruiting 17-18 year-olds for a pilot study, and the full study will examine why adolescents’ diets change so much between leaving school and starting work or higher education, and how these changes relate to their long-term health.
- Watch a recording of this talk on our YouTube channel
- Read an i newspaper article about the DEBEAT study
- Information on DEBEAT and how to participate in the pilot study
Opportunities at the Unit
Senior IT Infrastructure Engineer
The MRC Epidemiology Unit is seeking to appoint a Senior IT Infrastructure Engineer to play an important role within the Unit’s IT Team, helping provide computing facilities for approximately 200 staff, students and visiting fellows located across four main sites. The Senior IT Infrastructure Engineer will be the Windows Server expert for the IT Team and will lead on supporting the associated infrastructure.
- Closing date 23 April 2023.
- Full details
Research Grants Coordinator (Part Time)
The MRC Epidemiology Unit is seeking to appoint an enthusiastic and motivated part-time Research Grants Coordinator (21.9 hpw). The post will play a key role in the financial management and administration of all research grant and research activity. The role holder will support the Unit’s research by leading the costing process for new grants, ensuring all costs are accounted for, and helping with the administrative aspects of application submissions.
- Closing date 23 April 2023.
- Full details
Departmental Safety Officer (Part Time)
We are is seeking to appoint a part time (2 days a week) Departmental Safety Officer (DSO). This role is situated within the MRC Epidemiology Unit which is a department in the School of Clinical Medicine. The DSO will collaborate with senior and departmental managers, research scientists, laboratory managers and support staff. They will find practical solutions to complex Health & Safety issues, focusing on the needs of the research and enabling a proportionate response to the management of risk.
- Closing date 24 April 2023.
- Full details
Get specific alerts about vacancies by amending your subscription preferences at www.mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk/subscribe
Our latest publications
You can now find all publications from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at our new 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, we have published the following papers:
- Lifestyle Score and Risk of Hypertension in the Airwave Health Monitoring Study of British Police Force Employees Aljuraiban GS et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health.
- Do socioeconomic inequities arise during school-based physical activity interventions? An exploratory case study of the GoActive trial Alliott O et al. BMJ Open.
- Reducing Sitting Time in Type 1 Diabetes: Considerations and Implications Alobaid AM et al. Can J Diabetes.
- Characterisation of dominant-negative GH receptor variants reveals a potential therapeutic target for short stature Andrews A et al. Eur J Endocrinol.
- Susceptibility to Reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 Virus Relative to Existing Antibody Concentrations and T cell Response Atef S et al. Int J Infect Dis.
- Are there inequalities in the attendance and effectiveness of behavioural weight management interventions for adults in the UK? Protocol for an individual participant data (IPD) meta-analysis Birch J et al. BMJ Open.
- Loci for insulin processing and secretion provide insight into type 2 diabetes risk Broadaway KA et al. Am J Hum Genet.
- Association between classes and subclasses of polyphenol intake and 5-year body weight changes in the EPIC-PANACEA study Castañeda J et al. Obesity (Silver Spring).
- Early development of infant gut microbiota in relation to breastfeeding and human milk oligosaccharides Chichlowski M et al. Front Nutr.
- A longitudinal study of lifestyle behaviours in emerging adulthood and risk for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress Collins S et al. J Affect Disord.
- Content analysis of on-package formula labelling in Great Britain: use of marketing messages on first infant, follow-on, growing-up and specialist formula Conway R et al. Public Health Nutr.
- Identifying priority interventions using the Behaviour Change Wheel to improve public primary school food environments in urban South Africa Erzse A et al. Lancet Glob Health.
- Embracing complexity: making sense of diet, nutrition, obesity and type 2 diabetes Forouhi NG. Diabetalogia.
- Time spent on social media use and BMI z-score: a cross-sectional explanatory pathway analysis of 10,798 14-year-old boys and girls Foubister C et al. Pediatr Obes.
- Screen time, social media use, and weight-change behaviors: Results from an international sample Ganson KT et al. Prev Med.
- Non-occupational physical activity and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality outcomes: a dose-response meta-analysis of large prospective studies Garcia L et al. Br J Sport Med.
- Cross-Lagged Associations between Physical Activity, Motor Performance, and Academic Skills in Primary-School Children Haapala EA et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc.
- Politics and Fantasy in UK Alcohol Policy: A Critical Logics Approach Hawkins B et al. Critical Policy Studies.
- The moderating role of eating behaviour traits in the association between exposure to hot food takeaway outlets and body fatness Hoenink J et al. Int J Obes.
- Cooling cities through urban green infrastructure: a health impact assessment of European cities Iungman T et al. Lancet.
- Bayesian multistate modelling of incomplete chronic disease burden data Jackson C et al. J R Stat Soc Ser A Stat Soc.
- Eating disorder risk during behavioral weight management in adults with overweight or obesity: A systematic review with meta-analysis Jebeile H et al. Obesity Rev.
- Identifying Factors Which Influence Eating Disorder Risk during Behavioral Weight Management: A Consensus Study Jebeile H et al. Nutrients.
- Protocol and application of basal erythrocyte transketolase activity to improve assessment of thiamine status Jones K et al. Ann N Y Acad Sci.
- Recruitment and retention into longitudinal health research from an adolescent perspective: a qualitative study Jong ST et al. BMC Med Res Method.
- Association Between Self-Reported Polycystic Ovary Syndrome with Chronic Diseases Among Emiratis: A Cross-Sectional Analysis from the UAE Healthy Future Study Juber NF et al. Int J Womens Health.
- Multilevel correlates of abdominal obesity in adolescents and youth living with HIV in peri-urban Cape Town, South Africa Kamkuemah M et al. PLoS One.
- Changes in online food access during the COVID-19 pandemic and associations with deprivation: a longitudinal analysis Keeble M et al. JMIR Public Health Surveil.
- Large scale phenotype imputation and in vivo functional validation implicate ADAMTS14 as an adiposity gene Kentistou KA et al. Nat Commun.
- Urban policy interventions to reduce traffic-related emissions and air pollution: A systematic evidence map Khreis H et al. Environ Int.
- Proteogenomic links to human metabolic diseases Koprulu M et al. Nat Metab.
- Distribution and association of interpregnancy weight change with subsequent pregnancy outcomes in Asian women Ku CW et al. Sci Rep.
- Eating Disorders In weight-related Therapy (EDIT) Collaboration: Rationale and study design Lister NB et al. Nutr Res Rev.
- The Opioid Industry Document Archive: New Directions in Research on Corporate Political Strategy MacKenzie R et al. Int J Drug Policy.
- Genome-wide analysis identifies genetic effects on reproductive success and ongoing natural selection at the FADS locus Mathieson I et al. Nat Hum Behav.
- The association between plasma zinc concentrations and markers of glucose metabolism in adults in Cameroon Mba CM et al. Br J Nutr.
- The need for future research into the assessment and monitoring of eating disorder risk in the context of obesity treatment McMaster CM et al. Int J Eat Disord.
- Butyrate in human milk: associations with milk microbiota, milk intake volume, and infant growth Olga L et al. Nutrients.
- Worldwide Associations of Fruit and Vegetable Supply with Blood Pressure from 1975 to 2015: An Ecological Study Oude Griep L et al. BMJ Nutr Prev Health.
- Reactions of industry and associated organisations to the announcement of the UK Soft Drinks Industry Levy: longitudinal thematic analysis of UK media articles, 2016-18 Penney TL et al. BMC Public Health.
- Association Between Change in Physical Activity During Pregnancy and Infant Birth Weight Peter-Marske KM et al. Matern Child Health J.
- Associations between trajectories of obesity prevalence in English primary school children and the UK soft drinks industry levy: an interrupted time series analysis of surveillance data Rogers NT et al. PLoS Med.
- Incomplete reporting of complex interventions: a call to action for journal editors to review their submission guidelines Ryan M et al. Trials.
- Mediterranean diet adherence is associated with lower dementia risk, independent of genetic predisposition: findings from the UK Biobank prospective cohort study Shannon OM et al. BMC Med.
- Multi-ancestry genome-wide association analyses improve resolution of genes and pathways influencing lung function and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease risk Shrine N et al. Nat Genet.
- Quantifying the relationship between physical activity energy expenditure and incident Type 2 Diabetes: a prospective cohort study of device-measured activity in 90,096 adults Strain T et al. Diabetes Care.
- Cardiorespiratory Optimisation By Arteriovenous fistula Ligation after renal Transplantation (COBALT): study protocol for a multicentre randomised interventional feasibility trial Surendrakumar V et al. BMJ Open.
- Denormalising alcohol industry activities in schools van Schalkwyk MC et al. Lancet Public Health.
- Centile reference chart for resting metabolic rate through the life course Watson L et al. Arch Dis Child.
- Socioeconomic inequalities in food purchasing practices and expenditure patterns: Results from a cross-sectional household survey in western Kenya Were V et al. Front. Public Health.
- Shorter sleep among adolescents is associated with lower fruit and vegetable consumption the following day Winpenny E et al. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act.
- Genome-wide genotype-serum proteome mapping provides insights into the cross-ancestry differences in cardiometabolic disease susceptibility Xu F et al. Nat Commun.
- An atlas of genetic scores to predict multi-omic traits Xu Y et al. Nature.
- Dietary fatty acids and endometrial cancer risk within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Yammine SG et al. BMC Cancer.
- Ethnic disparities in COVID-19 outcomes: a multinational cohort study of 20 million individuals from England and Canada Zaccardi F et al. BMC Public Health.
- Causal effects of maternal circulating amino acids on offspring birthweight: a Mendelian randomisation study Zhao J et al. EBioMedicine.
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