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The University of Southampton

Research Group: Population Health Sciences Research group

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Our public health researchers are leading interdisciplinary projects to better understand the patterns and causes of poor health and to develop interventions that enhance the prevention, early detection and management of ill health and which ensure a more equitable distribution of health and wellbeing.

Population Health Sciences Research
Population Health Sciences Research

The public health team are working hard on COVID-19 related research, you can view a summary of this research in our 'Useful downloads' at the bottom of this page.

There are major issues facing the population’s health in the UK. Health inequalities between socio-economic groups are widening, driven significantly by poverty and differing life chances. There is a high frequency of unhealthy lifestyles such as poor diet and alcohol misuse with complex causes influencing peoples choices.  Risk for later ill health is shaped early in life, with problems like childhood obesity on the rise. The population is living longer but with a high burden of chronic illness such as diabetes which is putting pressure on health and social care services.

Our studies involve collaboration across a range of disciplines in the Faculty of Medicine and across the University which includes epidemiology, medical statistics, health economics, geography, demography, social sciences and primary care. Public Health and Epidemiology research are closely linked at Southampton and we have a particular interest in the use of large linked routine datasets to address population health and health care issues.


Children exercising


Our research spans across the lifecourse, with work on a good start in life (maternal and child health), vulnerable groups and adverse behaviours in adolescents and early adulthood including alcohol misuse, sexual health, offender health, domestic violence and hepatitis C and on the burden of disease in middle and later life (liver and kidney disease, multimorbidity, burden of treatment, frailty, dementia, malnutrition). We are also examining how antibiotic prescribing rates can be reduced to prevent antimicrobial resistance (Prof Paul Little, Prof Michael Moore). 

We work with local government and local NHS providers to provide more evidence to help policy makers make more informed decisions, to impact on the health of the population and on patients and their families.

Our public health research underpins our teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  We believe that the next generation of clinicians and healthcare professionals should have a better understanding of the drivers to health inequalities and the scope for prevention, and of the underlying research evidence.

Some of our research areas are described below, please also see our projects on the “related projects” tab.

Preventing childhood obesity: SLOPE

In England, nine per cent of children aged four to five, and 20 per cent aged 10 to 11 years are obese, with the prevalence in the most deprived areas being approximately twice as that in the least deprived. There is strong evidence that obesity risk is shaped at an early stage in life going back to pregnancy and preconception. Currently, here is no system-based early identification of childhood obesity risk at pregnancy stage and onwards in the UK.

Our researchers are conducting the SLOPE Study (Studying Lifecourse Obesity PrEdictors) which aims to explore whether we can predict which children are at high risk of becoming overweight and obese, from examining attributes of their mothers, their first years of life and where the family lives.

Anonymised routine data collected from pregnant women who deliver their babies in Southampton is being used as well as information about the baby’s growth. It is being compared with data in the National Child Measurement Programme, which measures the weight and height of every child (unless opted out) in reception and Year 6 of their primary school education. Attributes about the geographical area in which the mothers and children live are also being considered.

Our researchers will use the findings to develop a toolkit to help health professionals and public health services better target resources and efforts towards a healthier life journey for those children who are at risk of becoming obese later in life.
Contact: Dr Nirsreen Alwan

Ethnic inequalities in kidney disease: Born in Bradford kidney study

Evidence suggests that people with South Asian heritage are more prone to severe kidney disease, which could need dialysis or transplantation. A possible reason for this is South Asian babies have smaller kidneys that could be more prone to damage through their lives.

Our researchers are taking part in the Born in Bradford (BiB) study, one of the largest birth cohort studies in the world, which is tracking the lives of over 30,000 babies to find out what influences their  health and wellbeing from pregnancy through infancy childhood and early adulthood.  As Bradford has a high proportion of population of South Asian heritage it provides the opportunity to study ethnic differences in kidney health.
Using ultrasound of the kidneys in over 1,500 mothers, who took part in the study, at 34 weeks of pregnancy, we showed that South Asian babies had smaller kidneys than White British babies even after differences in their birth weight were allowed for. Now, funded by Kidney Research UK, our teams are following-up these children at age eight to see whether kidney function differs between South Asian and White British children and if so whether this is explained by kidney size at birth.
Contact: Prof Paul Roderick

Towards a better understanding of frailty and its impact

The population of the UK is ageing, and people are living longer with complex health problems. These people are often described as frail. People who are frail are more likely to find it difficult to deal with small changes in their health or circumstances. Better care for frail older people has become a priority for the NHS.
The electronic Frailty Index (eFI) is increasingly used to identify frail older people in a GP practice from their routine health care information. GPs and local health NHS services need to know more about their frail older patients and the health and care services they need. Health and social care organisations also need more information about the likely future burden of frailty as the population ages.

In a large database study funded by NIHR, we are using routine information from GP practices across England, linked to information about hospital care, from 2004 to 2018 to identify the number of frail older people, the severity of their frailty, and the factors that might increase the level of frailty. We will look at what happened to those people and assess the health care they needed over 10 years. We will use this information to build simulation models which will be useful for those planning and commissioning health and social care in the future to be able to predict the need for services to help people with frailty.
Contact: Dr Simon Fraser

Health and Justice (Gateway study)

Young adult offenders represent a vulnerable population with a range of complex and overlapping needs, such as mental health issues, substance misuse, employment and accommodation problems. There has been calls for more to be done to divert young adults from entering and re-entering the criminal justice system and earlier prevention within the community. Despite an increased acknowledgement of out-of-court community based interventions (OCBIs) and diversion, and their impact on the health and well-being for young adult offenders, the evidence base is still unclear, as is potential cost savings

Our researchers are examining the effectiveness of an OCBI called The Gateway, which aims to improve health and wellbeing, by engaging young adults aged 18 to 24 years in Southampton with specialised health and social care services and two knowledge and skills workshops designed around understanding offending behaviour, empathy and the wider determinants of reoffending, such as substance abuse and housing problems. The Gateway programme is a police-led and funded intervention, within a multi-agency approach.

The study evidence will be used to determine health benefits and cost-effectiveness from the intervention, to reduce repeated prison sentences, inform the practice of front-line services within the multi-agency approach; services for users, and the knowledge base of practitioners.
Contact:  Prof Julie Parkes

CHERISH – Couples Health Research and Intervention Studies

CHERISH develops couples-focused behaviour change strategies for health intervention research in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The research has three strands:

  1. adapting an existing intervention to substantially enhance promotion of couples HIV testing and counselling among
couples who have never tested together for HIV or mutually disclosed their status;
  2. developing a couples-focused intervention for couples where one partner has
diabetes; and,
  3. establishing a research agenda in couples-focused health research in SSA.

Please visit the CHERISH website for further information.
Contact: Professor Nuala McGrath

NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Wessex (ARC)

There are four main research areas, we are involved in Healthy Communities which is led by our Head of School Professor Julie Parkes

  • Ageing and Dementia
  • Healthy Communities
  • Long-term Conditions
  • Workforce and Health Systems


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