Twenty-six new research projects aimed at preventing cancer, diabetes and heart disease are announced by the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI).

The NPRI, established in October 2004, has targeted these conditions because of their significant impact on public health – affecting or killing thousands of people every year in the UK and millions worldwide.

The newly funded studies have direct relevance on influencing health behaviours to prevent or minimise smoking and alcohol use, and to encourage physical activity and a good diet.

The projects are based in a number of settings such as schools, neighbourhoods, homes, the workplace and GP surgeries. They explore a range of approaches to encourage positive health behaviour, from the use of personal mentors through the health services to the internet. The following are examples of the projects which will be funded:

  • Developing strategies to tackle the early origins of obesity;
  • Helping Bangladeshi and Pakistani men to stop smoking;
  • Mapping physical activity and health in the urban environment;
  • Using the internet to encourage weight loss for overweight African-Caribbean women;
  • Profiles of physical activity in older adults;
  • Assessing the effect of alcohol marketing on drinking by young people;
  • Exploring the timing of meals and physical activity to promote good health in shift workers;
  • Influencing food purchasing by low-income consumers.

The NPRI was founded by the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI). It brings together a broad range of funders drawn from the public and charity sectors: British Heart Foundation; Cancer Research UK; Department of Health; Diabetes UK; Economic and Social Research Council; Food Standards Agency; Medical Research Council; Research and Development Office for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services; Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Executive Health Department; Welsh Assembly Government and World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF UK). The NPRI welcomes approaches from other organisations wishing to join the consortium, to contribute to the success of this important initiative.

Good quality research on how best to change people’s behaviour is vital if we are to improve public health and prevent illness and death from cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The National Prevention Research Initiative provides a truly co-ordinated approach to prevention research. By bringing together the expertise of UK researchers, charities and government, we can develop and implement the most effective ways of changing health-related behaviour.

Jane Kennedy, Health Minister


This unique initiative is funding research which crosses traditional boundaries between disease groups. The multidisciplinary research teams will be combining expertise to focus on common prevention issues to maximise benefit to the UK public.

Dr Diana Dunstan, chair, board of NPRI Funding Partners


Tobacco use, obesity, low physical activity and excessive alcohol intake are at the root of many diseases. There will never be a pill that people can take that will wipe out these factors – so we must imaginatively approach them in the local community and find ways of minimising these deadly risks. People deserve accurate information about the risks that exist in some everyday lifestyles. We find it difficult to equate being a ‘couch potato’ with a heightened risk of heart disease. Or on that night out, that the pack of cigarettes is another step on a path to lung cancer. Put simply, a better lifestyle means a better chance of a longer disease-free life.

Professor Alex Markham, Chairman of the NCRI and Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK


This initiative is a unique collaboration between government departments, research councils and major charities to provide the UK with the evidence base that is needed to make further breakthroughs in preventing ill-health. Prevention is definitely not top-down ‘nagging’ by the government or the medical profession. It is society itself learning imaginative ways to support healthier lifestyles, whether by making better use of the internet, community partnerships with local shops, training members of the community to be health advisors or using modern marketing skills to promote healthier living. We all urgently need to know what works.

Ray Fitzpatrick, chair of the NPRI Scientific Committee and Professor of Public Health at the University of Oxford