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Epidemiology and public health

The MRC is committed to improving human health through research. By transforming the ecosystem for health research and innovation through pioneering partnerships and capacity-building schemes, the MRC has created valuable platforms, tools, and training programmes. The areas of investment vital for transforming health research include:

Epidemiology and public health: developing evidence-based public health strategies for the UK and globally

The transforming health research topics reflect the MRC’s strategic assessment of the opportunity to develop the necessary skills and technology in these areas of focus. The MRC’s commitment to funding the breadth and depth of biomedical research is continued within this sub-set of topics. The following case studies and quantitative data demonstrate the impact of the MRC’s investment into these areas for transforming health research.

What is epidemiology and public health?

Epidemiology is the study of the distribution of diseases or health states, and the application of this analysis to the control of diseases and other health problems. Population health is the study of biological and environmental influences on the physical and mental health of populations, along with the creation of intervention policies and changes to clinical practice to improve health. Taken together, these two areas of medical research can offer insights into the determinants of health, wellbeing and disease, while contributing to public health policy and changes in clinical practice.

One of the most influential MRC-funded studies with a profound impact on global health is the 1954 study analysing a group of GPs, led by Professor Richard Doll. This study first identified the harmful effects of smoking. Since then, the MRC has followed many population sub-groups over time to understand the role of biological, environmental and lifestyle factors shaping human health. Known as ‘cohort studies’, this type of medical research is used to investigate the cause of disease, establishing links between risk factors and health outcomes. The UK supports an unparalleled collection of large-scale population cohort studies which provide a wealth of longitudinal phenotypic, biological and social data for studying health and wellbeing throughout the life course. For more than 50 years, the MRC has funded a diverse range of population cohorts that differ in size, age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic position, geographic location and length of follow-up. The portfolio of MRC-supported population cohorts includes the world’s longest running birth cohort and the largest longitudinal study of women’s health.

By understanding how and why health and wellbeing varies within and between populations and across the life course, it can help us learn how the health of the public can be improved through clinical or public health interventions.

Case studies

Impact of MRC funded cohorts

The UK has a strong background in epidemiology and public health research. One of the most robust sources of data for this area of research comes from the MRC’s unparalleled collection of large scale population cohort studies. These provide a wealth of longitudinal phenotypic, biological, and social data for studying health and wellbeing throughout the life course. A few key achievements from cohorts funded by the MRC are highlighted in our case studies.

Read our collection of cohort stories

MRC study shows that Mediterranean diet could prevent 19,000 deaths a year in UK

MRC-funded scientists studying the UK’s eating habits showed in 2016 that thousands of deaths from heart disease and stroke could be prevented if everybody ate a Mediterranean diet. The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil and fruits and vegetables, have had a popular following for many years, but the study is the first to look at it in the real world of the UK thanks to the EPIC-Norfolk cohort group.

Read more about this study