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Reporting guidelines for non-communicable disease public health modelling studies

Highlight Notice

The MRC/NIHR Methodology Research Programme Advisory Group has determined that reporting guidelines for non-communicable disease public health modelling studies is a key area of unmet need. 

Applications are invited from teams wishing to scope, design and lead the development of such a reporting guideline, which must be compliant with the standards set by the EQUATOR network, with which the final guidelines must be registered.


Public health modelling is an important technique to understand the potential impact of public health interventions (health impact modelling)  and to make forecasts of the burden and pattern of disease (forecasting). It serves as an important complement to other approaches e.g. RCTs and natural experimental studies, which often cannot adequately address questions concerning population impact in a timely manner.

Modelling of non-communicable disease is of significant value in public health (Webber et al, 2014). It has had influence on the minimum unit pricing debate (Purshouse et al, 2010). It can be used to inform decisions, such as by modelling the cost-effectiveness of interventions for primary cardiovascular disease (Cobiac et al, 2012), or trends in disease burden (McPherson et al, 2007). Modelling is increasingly being used to provide evidence to support local, national and international policies for NCDs. Therefore it is imperative to provide robust evidence supported by consistent reporting.

NIHR, through the Public Health Research Programme, School for Public Health, and other bodies, both commissions significant amounts of modelling work, and consumes the outcome of modelling projects as part of its research funding processes.

However, the use of model reports is limited by a lack of consistent reporting. Methods are not transparent – for example consumers of a model need to know what parameters were used for the model, and how the values for those parameters were determined. Reports may address both, one, or even none of these questions. This lack of information makes it difficult for academics and commissioners to know what weight to apply to a model. This is made worse by the community’s tendency to publish model results, but not the underlying code and data.

Clinical trial reporting has improved substantially since the production of the CONSORT guidelines (Moher et al, 2001; Moher et al, 2010).  Guidelines for reporting modelling studies could be similarly valuable, setting out a minimum dataset to be reported on to allow the interpretation of modelling studies to inform practice, policy, and further research.

Public health modelling is related to but distinct from economic modelling, for which reporting guidelines (CHEERS statement) already exist. The latter is concerned primarily with economic factors (costs, time horizon, discounting, societal perspective). Health outcomes from modelling studies or other sources, e.g. randomized controlled trials, may be an input into a health economic model but the focus of the latter is modelling costs attributable to disease and not disease. The present health economic modelling guidelines do not give consideration to the decision and reporting of health impact modelling (or forecasting).

Application process and schedule

Applications for projects are invited through the normal MRC funding grant schemes (research grant, new investigator research grant etc.) to the standard MRP deadlines and will be considered at the regular MRP Panel meetings. These will be in competition with other response-mode applications received, but the Panel will be mindful of the strategic importance of this area.

MRC-NIHR Methodology Research Programme

Contact and guidance

The titles of all applications in response to this highlight should be prefixed with “HPHM:” when filling out the JES form, and on any attachments, e.g. “HPHM: A guideline for…”

It is essential to discuss your proposals with MRC Head Office at an early stage. All applications must be approved by the Methodology Programme Manager prior to submission. Please contact:

Dr Samuel Rowley


Webber L, Mytton OT, Briggs ADM, Woodcock J, Scarborough P, McPherson K, et al. The Brighton declaration: the value of non-communicable disease modelling in population health sciences. Eur J Epidemiol. 2014 Dec;29(12):867–70.

Purshouse RC, Meier PS, Brennan A, Taylor KB, Rafia R. Estimated effect of alcohol pricing policies on health and health economic outcomes in England: an epidemiological model. The Lancet. 2010;375(9723):1355–64.