Lifestyles affecting health

The UK has one of the highest rates of obesity in children and adults in the world with substantial adverse consequences for health. Some 5m people in the UK suffer from diabetes with a cost to the NHS of approx. £10bn per year. The numbers of people with obesity and diabetes are rising.

Behaviours such as diet, how much exercise we do, and consuming tobacco, alcohol or drugs play a major role in influencing health, wellbeing and the risk of chronic diseases. Understanding what drives these choices and how they affect health are key challenges to society, as are developing effective ways to modify the behaviours of diverse social, cultural and economic populations.


To inform the development of effective strategies for promoting healthy behaviour and tackling lifestyles that lead to disease.


  • We play a leading role in coordinating the multi-partner National Prevention Research Initiative and the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) Public Health Research Centres of Excellence, which focus on developing interventions to tackle the risks associated with developing chronic diseases.
  • We have significantly increased the capacity for collaborative addiction research by investing in addiction clusters.
  • We support an extensive range of research relevant to obesity, diet, physical activity, smoking and inequalities in MRC Units and Universities.
  • The MRC Population Health Sciences Research Network has developed internationally recognised methods and guidance for the design and evaluation of lifestyle interventions.

Making an impact: Cross agency partnerships accelerate addiction research

The MRC-funded addiction research cluster in Manchester has been instrumental in the UK Home Office’s Drug Data Warehouse, an initiative which contains information on one million individuals who misuse drugs.

The Manchester team carried out research demonstrating that it is feasible to link separate databases held by the criminal justice system and drug treatment services in a secure and anonymised way.

The resource has enormous potential to improve understanding of drug misusers and drug-misusing offenders. Research with the data has already shown that individuals who complete drug treatment programmes halve their convictions.


  • We aim to identify the reasons behind lifestyle choices including the involvement of genetics.
  • We aim to better understand the complex relationships between lifestyles, health and social inequalities, environmental influences and how these affect health behaviours.
  • We aim to understand the factors that are making it difficult to reverse the increasing levels of obesity in children and adults, and to develop more targeted interventions.
  • We seek to develop new approaches to tackling addiction to tobacco and drugs and to provide authoritative knowledge about the biological and social harms caused by alcohol. Where possible we will link this knowledge to specific consumption patterns to provide evidence for new interventions and policy approaches.
  • In partnership with Government, international and charity research funders, we seek to develop and evaluate interventions designed to improve health and reduce preventable disease.
  • We aim to target research to meet needs of users, such as health departments, and successfully translate research evidence into policy and practice.
  • We seek to strengthen and coordinate interdisciplinary research networks and to develop and share methodologies to aid health promotion and disease prevention.


The MRC will continue to play a leading role in coordinating and managing multi-funder initiatives and supporting discovery and methodological research involving lifestyles and behaviours that affect health.

  • We will support interdisciplinary research into behaviours associated with preventable chronic diseases.
  • We will support research addressing people's routes into harmful alcohol consumption and link the drinking behaviours prevalent in the UK across the life course to the harms they cause.
  • We will support the early-phase development of population health interventions, which will provide better proof of concept evidence, and increase the effectiveness of subsequent intervention development.
  • We will lead multi-partner initiatives, such as the UKCRC Public Health Research Centres of Excellence, aimed at strengthening research capacity in public health, the exchange of knowledge and effective engagement with policy-makers and health service providers.
  • We will maintain our investment in high quality research, including through our units, centres and Methodology Hubs, located across the UK. This research will provide critical insights into lifestyle and behaviour that can be adapted for healthier lives.