Usher Institute

Bid to improve health and tackle inequality

A major research collaboration is to investigate key factors that limit people’s chances to live longer, healthier lives.

The £5.9 million scheme aims to address the strategies used by companies to promote products and choices that are detrimental to health.

These commercial factors are often neglected in research and policy. They play a significant role in contributing towards avoidable differences in people’s health within the population, and between population groups, however.

Preventable diseases

The international consortium, led by the University of Edinburgh, will look at the main preventable causes of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Findings will be used to inform public health policies aimed at addressing smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as tackling excess weight gain and obesity.

Commercial interests

The research will focus on generating evidence that can inform interventions to address how commercial producers of tobacco, alcohol and food promote products and influence consumer choices.

Lead researcher, Professor Linda Bauld, said SPECTRUM will address some of the most controversial questions facing population health.

To reduce diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases, we need to address their main preventable causes. This means introducing and enforcing public health policies that often clash with the business interests of very profitable companies. SPECTRUM aims to produce research that can rise to this challenge.

Professor Linda BauldUsher Institute

This research will be used by partners outside of academia, who will be active members of SPECTRUM, to make the case for effective policy and practice to improve health and address inequalities in the UK and further afield.

International study

Ten UK universities are involved in the research, along with one in Australia. Teams will work with Public Health England, Health Scotland, Public Health Wales and the main multi-agency alliances working in public health in the UK and further afield. Two independent companies specialising in statistical modelling and retail data will also be involved.


The programme – called SPECTRUM – builds on the work of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and extends this to unhealthy foods.

Funding has been awarded by the UK Prevention Research Partnership – a collaboration between 12 funders. These include charities, UKRI research councils and the UK health and social care departments.

University lead

SPECTRUM involves researchers from the University’s Usher Institute, School of GeoSciences and School of Social and Political Sciences.

Related links

UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies

Edinburgh Medical School

School of GeoSciences

School of Social and Political Sciences

MRC press release - £25 million funding awarded to leading disease prevention projects