Our aim

To develop the capability to identify the things that cause ill-health in people, as well as the factors that result in improved health – no matter where they live or what their socioeconomic background – across the whole population of the UK.

 The challenge

Factors that cause poor health are diverse and complex: they can be unexpected, long term or short term, as well as local, national or global, and can interlink, adding to the complexity. We do not always have the right data at our fingertips to be able to tell what kind of effect a behaviour, event or intervention has had – or could have – on a population’s health. However in many cases, the data we need exists already – health data is collected in GP surgeries and hospitals across the UK every day – the challenge is to create the right infrastructure to link it all together in innovative ways and do the right analyses, to better the health of the whole nation.

Our approach

We aim to collect and link the right information, to track a greater variety of factors that affect people’s health, over the whole of their lifetime, and for as many people as possible. That is the key to great public health research that changes lives for the better by improving prevention and early intervention to treat disease.

We will enable data science to transform public health research Through linking to data beyond health care, for example, to other government sectors, organisations, and data on environments that influence health. The people that work in these areas may not usually regard the data they produce as having a major bearing on public health, but in fact decisions made in education, housing, technology, engineering, law, fiscal policy, environmental science, planning, history and behavioural sciences all impact our health.

Through linking beyond the individual, we will better evaluate risk factors, outcomes and potential for interventions that target related individuals or groups, for example, parents and children/siblings, households, neighbourhoods and even whole countries. By enabling whole country comparisons, we will inform national policy development for the UK, improving health of all.

Our output

Public health is an area that has the potential to be revolutionised by data science. Information about people’s health will be linked with non-health data in a powerful way to draw conclusions about public health that we can act on to make whole populations healthier.

Science Priority Lead for Improving Public Health