Category: School of Public Health

What is being done to help low-income children get a Healthy Start? And is it enough?

Jennie Parnham shares insights into an evaluation of Healthy Start, a food assistance policy in England.


Low-income children have a much lower chance of eating a healthy diet than more affluent children, as highlighted by the recent campaigning of Marcus Rashford.

The causes of this disparity are very complex. It’s also important to say that although it’s more likely, it’s not deterministic. Many children of all backgrounds have a healthy diet. However, unfortunately factors tend to cluster together, making a healthy diet less likely for some. Let’s consider a single parent with a young child. One-third of children in single parent households live in poverty and it can cost up to 75% of their disposable income to buy the recommended food for a healthy diet. This is because healthy food is three times more expensive than less healthy foods. In their neighbourhood, there might be more places to buy ultra-processed fast food than healthy food. Finally, they may have less time to prepare healthy food, as there are fewer helping hands at home. In this environment, many families find their options for healthy eating limited. (more…)

An intense, scientifically incredible journey – our response to COVID-19

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Dr Natsuko Imai reflects on the experience of supporting the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to the pandemic.


Despite the introduction of “plan B”, I’m sure many of you will agree with me that, the run-up to Christmas this year still feels very different compared to 2020 when non-essential shops were closed, and we could only meet within our households or support bubbles. The swift introduction of measures and the fact we even have a vaccination programme to accelerate in response to the Omicron variant helps to keep me cautiously optimistic.

My colleagues in the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis and I have been working on COVID-19 since January 2020. This was when the virus was still called “novel coronavirus 2019” and only a handful of cases had been reported outside of mainland China. Since our early assessment of the transmissibility and true size of the epidemic in Wuhan City, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spread to every corner of the world, changing the way we live in ways we could never have imagined.

Before the pandemic, most of my work as the liaison between the Centre and the World Health Organization was co-ordinating analytical support for outbreaks, typically in low- and middle-income countries. Since 2018, I have worked with colleagues on Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doing rapid real-time analysis to understand – “how bad is the outbreak? How many cases can we expect in the next 3-4 weeks? How many vaccines need to be deployed?”.

This year, I have worked on events closer to home, supporting the Centre’s Imperial College COVID-19 response team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to COVID-19 both in the UK and abroad. With requests for analysis coming in almost daily in the early days, it has been an intense, but scientifically incredible journey. I am especially thankful for the generosity everyone has shown under all kinds of pressures. (more…)

The Future is Fungal

illustration of fungi

Jenny Shelton takes us through the incredible potential of fungi and how this diverse, yet often overlooked, species may hold many of the answers to global challenges, from climate change to food insecurity. 


Fungi play important roles in nature, food production, medicine, industry and bioremediation yet we have only discovered ~150,000 out of a potential 6.3 million fungal species. Just recently, a PhD student found undiscovered fungal species in seeds stored at the Millennium Seed Bank and estimates the whole collection might contain up to 1 million new species! You might be surprised to learn that fungi are more closely related to animals, and therefore humans, than they are to plants, and that the combined biomass of all fungi on Earth is 200 times greater than the entire human race.

The responses I often get when I tell someone I’m a mycologist is “Eurgh, I hate mushrooms!” or “Can you cure my athlete’s foot infection?”. It’s no surprise that this is their reaction given how little fungi feature in the U.K. school curriculum, or even in most biology and medical degrees, but it is such a shame given how magnificently diverse the Kingdom of Fungi is. (These responses also, unknowingly, capture the yin and yang of fungi: while this article is about the good that they can do it is important to acknowledge that fungal infections cause misery to millions of people around the world every year.)

Keeping in mind the challenges facing us – climate change, global food insecurity and infectious disease pandemics –I hope you will agree with me that the solutions to many of our problems could be fungal! (more…)

From Brazil to Westminster: learning from a community health worker model

On World Health Day, Dr Matthew Harris reflects on what we can learn from Brazil’s community health worker model.

Back in 2011, I was telling a senior consultant in Public Health about Brazil’s extraordinary primary care system which is based on an army of over 250k community health workers (CHW). It had been established in the northeast of the country in the mid-1990s, in response to a cholera epidemic, and since had scaled nationally, now serving over 70% of the population.  The principles seemed simple enough. Individuals from a neighbourhood are recruited and trained on a wide array of health and social care issues for a few weeks and then spend their working days visiting all the households that they are responsible for.  Not many households, just around 200 each, but each CHW makes sure that the households get at least one visit per month. (more…)

This Christmas is the time to be patient, not to become one

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

As vaccines bring hope, Professor Helen Ward reflects on the emotions felt and lessons learned in a year confronting COVID-19.


What a strange year. For me, it has been full of contradictions. From one moment to the next I can feel sadness, frustration, anger but also pride and satisfaction. And guilt.

Sadness at the loss of life and the chronic ill-health that COVID-19 has brought, and for the loss of livelihoods and bleak futures for even more people. Frustration at the response of political leaders when vital decisions have been delayed, and anger that the pandemic has resulted in worsening social inequalities. Pride at my small part in the response, as an advocate for public health action when needed, a researcher co-leading one of the largest epidemiological studies (REACT), and an educator delivering a rapid online course to share the science of the COVID-19 response with over 100,000 learners. But also guilt that I have a secure and well-paid job that I can do safely from home, and that I have found research this year the most stimulating and satisfying of my career. Sometimes that enjoyment seems wrong.

My research career has focused on infectious disease epidemiology, particularly the control of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI), alongside teaching public and global health. I look back now and see how much of my career has been training for this pandemic challenge, and has taught me lessons that are very relevant for COVID-19.  From my HIV and STI research and clinical work, I learned about the complexities of controlling these infections. Understanding these “social” diseases requires a range of scientific approaches from basic immunology through mathematical modelling to anthropology. (more…)

Be the change you want to see in medicine

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Our first wise woman is Dr Sonia Kumar, Director of Undergraduate Primary Care Education and MEdIC (Medical Education Innovation and Research Centre).


My drive and motivation have always been underpinned by a strong and unshakable desire to make a difference, to try my best to make the world a better place. As you age you start to question where your underlying values come from, where and when did they start and from whom.

My father was a child of the Partition

Caught on the wrong side of the Indian border, my father as a very young child was forced to flee his then native country and travel with my grandmother, aunts and uncles, in the dead of the night on a train where children were muffled, and babies thrown overboard so the train could safely and silently make its way across the border. Years later he arrived in the UK in his twenties in search of new beginnings and despite the discrimination and racism of the 60s, he and my mother like many other immigrants of that time, showed untold strength and sacrifice to give us the next generation a better life.

Being a second-generation British Asian growing up in 70s and 80s Britain, I have not always had an easy ride. However, I am constantly reminded and humbled by the resilience and determination of my father and his forefathers and the opportunities and equality they fought for. It is an absolute privilege to honour those sacrifices and continue their legacy by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’  in all aspects of my work. (more…)

Why plain packaging for cigarettes does not increase illicit trade

Dr Anthony Laverty discusses new findings that quash the argument that plain cigarette packaging increases illicit tobacco trade.

Australia was the first country in the world to introduce standardised, or plain, packaging for cigarettes and tobacco. The move was the product of a long-running campaign from the public health community and meant that the packets are allowed no branding; just the product name in standard font, colour and size. Since Australia brought in these measures, the UK followed in 2017, as did Ireland and France, increasing the number of countries in the world which restrict one of the key avenues for the tobacco industry to advertise their products. (more…)

A letter to our taught students and their loved ones

This is an open letter from Mr Martin Lupton, Vice-Dean of Education to taught students in the Faculty of Medicine and their loved-ones.


Dear Students and their friends and families,

My eldest son has recently returned to University in the UK and, even though I work in both the health and education sector, I have to acknowledge that I have a certain level of anxiety about him. It is very difficult to read the news about all that has happened during this time of COVID and not to worry.

I am telling you this because I want you to understand that I have some inkling of what you may be feeling right now, particularly if you come from overseas or your daughter, son or relation, has just started their university life. The first thing I want to say is “Welcome to the Faculty of Medicine”. We are very proud of what we have achieved during this global pandemic; the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College has been a key player contributing to the world’s understanding of the virus, the mapping of the virus, teaching people about the virus and developing a new vaccine. However, that is not all that we have been doing. (more…)

A public health Insight into the UK’s new obesity strategy

Public health researcher Charan Gill provides an inside look at the Government’s new obesity strategy and discusses if it’s the way to tackle the obesity crisis.


In July the UK government released the ‘Tackling Obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives strategy’. As a public health researcher, I was eagerly waiting for this to be published and I know many others were also anticipating what was going to be released in the document.  This new strategy has received a great deal of criticism, and although it does raise valid and important points, it has left many confused. Despite this, there have also been several important issues raised which needed to be addressed. Over recent years, several obesity strategies have been published, but I want to highlight some key positives from this strategy and how I see it working.

Firstly, I want to recognise how great it is to see the government emphasising on public health and prevention. Acknowledging that there are public health services that can offer huge benefits to the public and will in turn have beneficial impacts and reduced strain on the NHS. The strategy claims that the government will expand weight management services and the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme which are a few services which can offer preventative support.  These suggestions are fantastic and offer practical resources to support individuals who want to make healthy lifestyle changes. (more…)

My PhD analysing hundreds of poo samples from preterm babies

Dr Holly Jenkins provides an insight into her research looking at bacterial communities in the guts of preterm babies from analysing stool samples.


Every year in the UK, one in 13 babies are born prematurely. A premature birth is one that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. It is one of the leading causes of neonatal morbidity and mortality – that’s why research is extremely important. I decided I wanted to pursue a career in neonatal research because of the amazing clinical and scientific work that is helping improve the care and lives of babies born too soon.

From 2015 to 2018 I completed my PhD in Professor Neena Modi’s leading neonatal research team, based at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.  The team is comprised of clinicians (doctors, nurses and midwives), scientists, statisticians and data analysts, all of which are researching different aspects of preterm and term births. (more…)