Health of the People

Health of the Public – Using Population Data for Better Health

To better understand the complex public health challenges of the 21st Century, address their multi-factorial drivers and design interventions, a transdisciplinary ‘Health of the Public’ approach, that harnesses the opportunities of the digital revolution, is needed.

UCL has a critical mass of population health and data science resources, combining world-leading expertise to curate, access and interpret myriad data sources and leads/partners in a number of high-profile initiatives such as Health Data Research (HDR-UK), UCL Partners and the Alan Turing Institute. CALIBER, in the UCL Institute for Health Informatics, is a research platform that includes electronic health records on 10 million patients. The ECHILD and PICNIC studies at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health link health, education, social care and environmental data for the whole population in England. UCL hosts CLOSER, which brings together UK longitudinal population studies (e.g. 1946/1958/1970 and Millennium Cohorts, ELSA), the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing and leads a number of serial cross-sectional surveys (e.g. the National Survey for Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) and the Health Survey for England). With our strengths in clinical trials methodology (including MRC Clinical Trials Unit and CRUK Cancer Trials Centre) these represent an unrivalled training environment.

UCL has a long history of leading world-class public health research, including on social determinants, and more recently has been at the vanguard of transdisciplinary research. Across UCL Faculties, there are Research Centres which hold a vast array of health, administrative and environmental datasets. The Department of Computer Science is at the forefront of using unstructured data (e.g. from social media, Twitter feeds, unique Google API, wearables and apps) and has abundant computational resource, which is in addition to UCL’s extensive centrally-funded compute cluster facilities. UCL leads major flagship programmes, providing opportunities for students to embed their research in world-leading research teams (e.g. Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (CUSSH), AHRI (African Health Research Institute) population intervention platform, and i-sense, EPSRC-funded IRC in Early-Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases.

The guiding principles of the HP Theme are to provide students with the opportunity to work in a world-class research and training environment, and to mentor them through their PhD to postdoctoral fellowships and other career opportunities. They will become transdisciplinary population health leaders with epidemiological and data science skills, who will be able to better understand, intervene, and evaluate responses to, major public health challenges.

The Theme Directors are Professor Pam Sonnenberg and Professor Katie Harron. Their contact details can be found in the People page of this website.

Current students on the Health of the Public theme are conducting the following studies for their PhDs:

“Intersectionality, Non-communicable Diseases and Health Equity”

“Investigating the impact of Britain’s human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme to inform national public health interventions in the next decade”

“The effect of adverse childhood experience on dementia risk”

“Artificial intelligence applications in the diagnosis and control of infectious diseases”

“Characterising the vaginal microbiota using state-of-the-art metagenomics among women in the general British population to inform sexual and reproductive health policy”

“Healthy Longevity in the 21st Century: Leveraging Longitudinal Microdata to Understand Macro Trends in Healthy Life Expectancy”

“Examining inequalities in needs identification and pathways to mental health care for racially minoritised children and young people in the UK”

“Understanding the effects of education on health and health inequalities”

“Developing a brief, immersive virtual reality scenario for smokers unmotivated to quit- a theory, evidence, and person-based approach”

Potential Supervisors

The UCL Birkbeck MRC DTP sends out a call for projects after we recruit our students and the full list of projects for the 2024/25 academic year will be available in the summer of 2024.

The list of projects for the Health of the Public theme for the 2023/24 academic year is available. This theme was formerly known as Population, People and Data. This list is indicative only. These projects may not be available in 2024/25