By Professor Keith Godfrey
Alongside the consequences for individuals, families and communities, poor physical and mental health are having important negative impacts on national economic activity. In evidence to the Treasury select committee, Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, opined that 80% of forces pushing up inflation in the UK are being driven by global circumstances, while the remaining 20% arises from national issues affecting growth, associated with an unusual and persistent reduction in the workforce post-pandemic. Long-COVID contributes to this to workforce reduction, but wider ill-health and low resilience in society likely play a dominant role, with widening disparities in physical and mental health a real concern.
Against this backdrop, I would like to briefly highlight four research and knowledge exchange activities where the Faculty is playing a leading role in regional and national initiatives to fundamentally improve population health and resilience.
Regionally, the UKRI Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded “Pathways to Health Through Cultures of Neighbourhoods” cross-Faculty project led by Professor Jo Sofaer is making great strides in bringing together academics, civic leaders, health professionals, non-governmental organisations and cultural organisations across Southampton to learn from young people from deprived communities in the city. Building on the links established by LifeLab, we are now in an excellent position to apply for major AHRC funding. The activity is supporting Southampton’s application to be a UNICEF Child Friendly City, and feeds into Southampton City Council’s application for an NIHR Health Determinants Research Centre.
The first of three national initiatives relates to the UKRI National Ageing Networks, where Southampton leads the MyAge “Muscle resilience across the life course: from cells to society” national network. At our Steering Committee away day at Chilworth Science Park this week we pushed forward plans for a roadmap for research and policy development nationally. This encompasses promoting physical activity and building strong muscles in early life to improve physical and mental health, sustaining muscle in mid-life to reduce sickness absence from musculoskeletal disorders and improve economic productivity, and preventing muscle loss in later life to reduce frailty associated disorders and increase “healthspan”, not simply “lifespan”. The second national initiative relates to involvement in setting a new UK Strategy for Clinical and Applied Diabetes Research. After 3 years on the steering committee, it was great to see this launched by Diabetes UK and the NIHR last week. The strategy sets our six key research areas where increased research activity would help to address unmet need in this major source of ill-health, with areas such as lifecourse prevention of diabetes and gestational diabetes being among those where Southampton research is making a national
The third national initiative is in preconception care and health. My work with the Children’s Alliance charity and the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood has led to the recent tabling of an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons calling for a national preconception care strategy. This has been signed by a significant group of MPs, and many others have written to Ministers supporting this as a key policy to tackle the transgenerational transmission of disparities. It is now on the agenda of the government Maternity Disparities Taskforce led by Maria Caulfield, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Women) for the Equality Hub; as Co-Chair of the UK Preconception Partnership, I met with the Taskforce secretariat last week and there is strong desire to use our insights to deliver new policies.