Tackling Obesity in Secure Mental Health Settings

One of the first MRC funded “Proximity to Discovery” to be awarded in the Faculty involves collaborative work between ScHARR and Public Health England to explore ways of addressing a growing problem in specialised settings.

People with severe mental illness are at increased risk of obesity, compared to the demographically matched population. Rates of obesity can be up to 60% in people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, with medications used to treat these conditions being associated with weight gain. Obesity is associated with a range of health problems including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer with NHS costs attributable to overweight and obesity are projected to reach £9.7 billion by 2050, with wider costs to society estimated to reach £49.9 billion per year. As a result, obesity has been designated as a priority area of focus in both NHS England’s 5-Year Forward View and Public Health England’s ‘Evidence into Action’ priorities.

ScHARR Research Fellow, Dr Maxine Johnson, has been seconded to work with Matthew Day, Public Health Consultant and the specialised commissioning team at Public Health England part-time for six months. They are using a combination of research methods including evidence synthesis, audit and stakeholder meetings with the support of an advisory group to identify ways in which obesity might be addressed in low, medium and high secure mental health units. The project aims are to examine the scale and impact of obesity within secure adult mental health settings and successful interventions that might impact or translate to secure settings. Barriers, facilitators and costs relating to implementation of interventions in these settings will be explored.

Maxine and Matthew presenting preliminary findings on their research project

Maxine said about the scheme:

The P2D scheme has provided an invaluable opportunity to forge new collaborations. I would recommend the scheme for those wishing to enhance professional as well as partnership development.

This collaborative work will facilitate commissioner, clinician, academic and service user contributions to analysis of the existing evidence base. Outputs from the study will include recommendations for commissioners of services in these settings and inform the development of further research proposals for the evaluation of evidence based interventions to reduce risk of obesity, delivered in secure settings.

When we asked how the Public Health England viewed the scheme Matthew stated:

This scheme has enabled PHE to utilise world class academic skills to underpin evidenced based advice to the NHS on national prevention policy, form long term collaboration relationship, and support CPD for both organisations. It has been a great success!’


MRCLogoThis research is being funded by the Medical Research Council through the Proximity to Discovery Scheme, which is designed to foster the establishment of new collaborations by providing support to early interactions and knowledge exchange between external partners and academic researchers.

The award supports early career researchers and professional staff to work within the MRC remit with an external partner,  or enable an external partner to come into the University to work on a project. Projects can last for a maximum of 3 months in total, either full time or part time.

The next deadline for applications is the 30th April 2016.

If you are interested in this scheme click here for further information about how to apply.