We will work to unpack the ‘black box of places’ by advancing understanding of how aspects of the local social and physical environment interact to influence health and the ability to lead a healthy life. Our work will be organised in three themes, focusing on (1) understanding impacts of regeneration on health and wellbeing, (2) examining contextual influences on children and young people’s health, behaviour and development, and (3) bringing about system change to improve health in communities. Through these themes, we will explore the interdependencies among social, environmental and biological influences on health, their coalescence in particular localities, and identify potential mechanisms to improve the health of neighbourhoods and communities.
Interest in neighbourhood-level influences on health has burgeoned with research showing that although ‘who you are’ explains much geographical variation in health outcomes, there is also an effect of ‘where you are’. Neighbourhoods are also an important site for health improvement efforts, and population health monitoring. Although policymakers recognise that that people’s health, wellbeing and resilience are affected by the quality of their environments, including the availability of green and open spaces, transport, housing, access to good quality food and social isolation, finding levers to bring about health improvement by changing neighbourhoods remains a significant research challenge.
Aims, Objectives and overarching research questions
Our aim over the next five years is to further understanding of the ways in which aspects of neighbourhood and community interact to influence health and the ability to lead a healthy life.
We will (1) examine how changes over time to the local social and physical environment matter for health; (2) add a new focus on children and young people, and study how the local social and physical environment influences their health and development; (3) apply the knowledge gained to develop and evaluate interventions in collaboration with policy, practice and community stakeholders.
Our longer term ambition is to further understandings of neighbourhoods as complex systems through which social and physical environments act in synergy to influence health, and to use these understandings as the basis for developing interventions to improve health through neighbourhood change.
We will build on existing strengths within the programme, with an emphasis on understanding how neighbourhood and community change influence health and the ability to lead a healthy life. In theme 1: understanding the impacts of regeneration on health and wellbeing, we will build on our existing GoWell studies and collaborations. In theme 2: contextual influences on children and young people, we will concentrate on using the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) longitudinal study, supplemented by new primary data collection, to investigate the role of local social and physical environment in influencing physical activity, and developmental and behavioural outcomes. In theme 3: bringing about system change to improve health in communities, we will focus on interventions informed both by our research on mechanisms and by engagement with local stakeholders. We will also capitalise on our existing data to explore neighbourhood influences on healthy ageing. Across the three themes, we will concentrate on health outcomes and behaviours that are major public health burdens now and projected into the future (e.g. mental health, obesity, physical activity, alcohol and smoking).
For more information, please contact Anne Ellaway.