Are loneliness and social isolation the bane of living in the 21st Century? Since the early days of 2020, national lockdowns, social distancing measures and remote working have put a bright spotlight on loneliness – one of society’s rising problems that governments can no longer overlook. Dr Austen El-Osta shares how his new project to map loneliness in London hopes to highlight the scale of the issue.
The UK Government published the first Loneliness Strategy in 2018 and has since installed a Loneliness Minister to get people talking about the problem. This cross‑governmental strategy has three goals:
- Improve the loneliness research evidence base
- Consider loneliness in all government policy
- Build a “national conversation on loneliness” to reduce the stigma associated with loneliness
Loneliness and social isolation are significant determinants of health and quality of life. They are strongly associated with psychological disorders, cardiovascular disease and are even a risk factor for the exacerbation of early mortality. For the last few decades, increasing urbanisation and over-reliance on technology has led to the ‘atomisation’ of society – think online games, virtual reality, chat rooms, AI chatbots and the recently publicised Metaverse. There is also an increasing number of services which can be accessed online including shopping and healthcare which decreases the need, and opportunity, for “in person” encounters.
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…)
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…)
Professor Danny Altmann explores how the pandemic has offered new perspectives on his research, leading to new collaborations and engaging with policy.
If any of us ever wished for greater prominence, respect, or public understanding of our scientific contributions to society, this is not the way we would have wished to achieve it. For so many at Imperial working in diverse aspects of infection, immunity and global health, this has been a time of much urgent soul-searching as to how we can best bring our skill sets to bear on the problem most effectively, whether as clinicians, disease modellers, vaccinologists or basic immunologists. It’s hard to turn on a news broadcast or open a newspaper without seeing opinions from Imperial colleagues, clinical and scientific.
At a time when the mantra is ‘policy led by the science’, this is absolutely as it should be. We often have it ingrained as scientists to keep our heads down lest we be accused of showboating or playing ‘Johnny-Big-Potato’ by making inflated claims about our research. Yet, this is a time when it’s OK and even laudable to stick your head above the parapet: when it genuinely matters, and people genuinely want to know, what are these different types of antibody tests, is antibody protective and how long does it last, which may be the most effective vaccines. This surely is the time to step up to the plate, whether by adapting the research focus of our labs to the current issues, by communicating and trying to clarify the nuances, and of course, by remembering our commitments to our students and trying to work out how to keep them stimulated and scientifically productive despite lockdown. (more…)
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.
Our second is Dr Julia Makinde, an HIV researcher at the IAVI Human Immunology Lab, who makes the case for translating science into policy.
A dearth of advisers
A section of the nativity story portrays Herod the Great as something of a tyrant. A man who sanctioned an order to wipe out every male infant born in and around Bethlehem in a pre-emptive action to eliminate the threat of a new-born king. As difficult as it is to imagine anyone, let alone a political leader, endorsing the massacre of innocent children, the story presents an interesting metaphor of complex political motivations and the outcome of a breakdown in the process of policy making.
With vaccinations, climate change and access to healthcare taking centre stage in the global debate, the intersection between science and policy has never been more relevant. Whilst I started out in research with the desire to help create solutions to global healthcare challenges, I have come to understand that the actions taken to disseminate research outcomes are just as important as the process of discovery itself. (more…)
Professor Jane Davies reflects on the positive news for those affected by cystic fibrosis on both sides of the Atlantic – access to Orkambi on the NHS and FDA Approval of ‘triple combination’ in the US.
Last week marked a milestone for people living with cystic fibrosis (CF) in the UK after NHS England announced that new drugs – Orkambi and Symkevi – will be made available on the NHS after securing a deal with the drug manufacturers, Vertex. After four years of community and patient organisation campaigns, I am delighted with this outcome which will be transformative for young people with CF.
There are over 10,000 people in the UK and over 100,000 worldwide estimated to be living with cystic fibrosis (CF). The condition is caused by a faulty gene encoding for a cell surface ion channel called Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR). Ion channels are integral for regulating salt and water transport across mucosal surfaces, particularly in the lungs for defence against infections and in the digestive system. People with CF have a shorter life expectancy than healthy people and a hugely burdensome treatment regime just to keep as well as possible. (more…)
Charlotte Roscoe highlights the problem of environmental inequality and explores how potential solutions such as urban green spaces may help to close the gap.
Whether it’s standing on picket lines with Mind the Pay Gap signs, whether it’s the rallying cry of Black Lives Matter, or surging child poverty across the UK: one thing inequality probably doesn’t mean to you, is city planning. Yet over 80% of the UK population live in urban areas, and the built environment is unequally impacting our health and wellbeing.
Not all urban neighbourhoods were built equal
Urban neighbourhoods designed in the past few decades of vehicle priority tend to be the most damaging to health. Car parks and roads have swallowed up our public spaces, and despite government strategies to reduce vehicle emissions via charging schemes, vehicles continue to dominate our streets.
Perhaps you’ve read headlines such as: “Traffic noise revealed as new urban killer”, or, “Each car in London costs NHS and society £8,000 due to air pollution”. These shocking news stories feature robust scientific evidence from the MRC Centre for Environment and Health, that both traffic noise and air pollution are linked to ill health, and even death.
Newsflash – traffic is bad for us! (more…)
The Government recently announced plans to create a smoke-free society by 2030 – Dr Nick Hopkinson outlines some of the steps towards achieving this ambition.
Tobacco smoking remains a huge public health issue. Although population smoking rates continue to fall – now down to 14.4% of adults – smoking is still responsible for around 100,000 deaths per year in the UK, and for around half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor. Smoking rates are high in areas of deprivation, in people with mental health problems and among people who identify as LGBT.
The Government’s recent green paper, Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020’s, although in many areas light on detail, funding, delivery and ambition, does set out some important markers on smoking and some potentially interesting developments around funding tobacco control. (more…)