Postdoctoral Research Position: Available Now.

We are seeking to appoint a Postdoctoral Researcher in the field of Health and the Environment at the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH) (based at the University of Edinburgh). You will contribute to two projects funded separately by the MRC Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy and the National Institute for Health Research. The first project will examine whether the density of tobacco and alcohol outlets around schools and homes affects smoking and drinking behaviours among 13 and 15 year olds in Scotland. The second is entitled ‘Determining the Impact of Smoking Point of Sale Legislation Among Youth (DISPLAY) study’. This mixed-method longitudinal study seeks to evaluate the impact of the change in legislation relating to the sale of tobacco in Scotland that comes into effect in 2012.  The successful candidate will play a key role in the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH)

Closing date: 06-Feb-2012
Fixed Term: 12 months
For further details on the position:
http://www.jobs.ed.ac.uk/vacancies/index.cfm?fuseaction=vacancies.detail&vacancy_ref=3015243

For informal enquiries please contact:
Dr Niamh Shortt (Niamh.Shortt@ed.ac.uk)
Prof Jamie Pearce (jamie.pearce@ed.ac.uk)
Prof Richard Mitchell (Richard.Mitchell@glasgow.ac.uk)

CRESH gets new grant to look at risk to kids from alcohol and tobacco outlets

The CRESH team, led by Niamh Shortt, has been awarded a grant from the MRC/CSO Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy. The research will examine whether the density of tobacco and alcohol outlets around schools and homes affects smoking and drinking behaviours among 13 and 15 year olds, in Scotland. The grant begins in early 2011 and we’ll be looking to recruit staff soon. Watch our website for more details.

CRESH call for papers – RGS-IBG: Environment, justice & health inequalities

CRESH are organising a conference session at the RGS-IBG and look forward to receiving abstracts.
The conference runs from 3-5 July 2012 and is being held at the University of Edinburgh

Environment, justice & health inequalities
In recent years the dominant discourse in environmental justice research has been concerned with notions of distributive justice. Studies adopting this utilitarian perspective have tended to consider the socio-spatial distribution of environmental ‘goods’ and ‘bads’. A common conclusion is that low socio-economic, ethnic minority and other vulnerable groups and places are often disadvantaged in terms of the availability of environmental resources or contact with environmental burdens. More recently, environmental justice scholars have challenged the dominance of the distributional approach. They have called for a reorientation that includes a consideration of (i) the processes underlying the maldistribution of resources and (ii) how the distribution of resources affects health and well-being. To date, despite its obvious potential, there has been little geographical work at the intersection of the fields of environmental justice and health inequalities.

The aim of this session is to bring together papers from an interdisciplinary group of researchers concerned with issues of environmental justice and health. This session, organised by the Centre for Research on Environment Society and Health (CRESH), seeks papers which address the following non exhaustive list of possible topics including climate change, health behaviours, salutogenic environments and vulnerability.

Deadline for submitting abstracts is Friday 2nd of December.
Please send abstracts up to a maximum of 250 words, proposed titles and 5 keywords (clearly stating name, institution, and contact details) to Niamh Shortt (niamh.shortt@ed.ac.uk), Jamie Pearce (Jamie.pearce@ed.ac.uk), Richard Mitchell (Richard.Mitchell@glasgow.ac.uk) and Elizabeth Richardson (e.richardson@ed.ac.uk)

CRESH at the EUPHA conference on Public Health and Nature

Rich Mitchell is giving a keynote address at a pre-meeting of the European Public Health Association in Copenhagen on the 9th November. Rich will be talking about Public Health’s new found interest in natural environments, the demand for high quality evidence and the relationships between experimental and observational studies. More details on the meeting can be found here.

CRESH MRC success (falls, ageing and resilience)

A team of researchers from a range of disciplines, including Professor Jamie Pearce from CRESH, has been successful in an application to the Medical Research Council (MRC) for a Strategic Grant to undertake pilot work on the outdoor environment and older people’s resilience to falls. The study, titled Go Far (Going Outdoors: Falls, Ageing & Resilience), will be a year-long project linking into Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW): a major cross-council initiative supporting research into healthy ageing and wellbeing in later life. The study is led by the SURFACE Inclusive Design Research Centre at theUniversityofSalford. The CRESH contribution will be to consider socio-spatial patterns in falls among the elderly in the UK.

Smoking Symposium at Durham University

Prof Jamie Pearce was an invited commentator at the inugural symposium of the Smoking Interest Group at Durham University’s Centre for Medical Humanities. This one day workshop, led by Professor Jane Macnaughton and Dr Andrew Russell established a fascinating dialogue between policy makers, practitioners and social science researchers with an interest in smoking and tobacco. The event is likely to lead to a number of new and exciting research collabrations in the field of tobacco control.

New ERC funding

A new CRESH project funded by the European Research Council commenced on 1st October 2011. Funded for 1.4 million euros over 5 years, this international study is considering how existing secondary datasets might be utilised to answer important questions about the pathways linking the environment to to health. The work commenced on 1st October 2011 and is led by Prof Jamie Pearce, Dr Niamh Shortt and Prof Richard Mitchell. We are delighted to be able to  appoint three members of staff Dr Elizabeth Richardson, Esther Rind, Dr Helena Tunstall. More details on our progress with this project will be posted on the CRESH webpage.

PhD studentship available; health economics of green space

Rich Mitchell and Andy Briggs (Glasgow Uni) have a PhD studentship available.

There is growing interest in whether contact with ‘green spaces’, including forests and parks, carries health benefits. Both Scottish and UK public health policy documents now explicitly recognise green spaces as ‘good for health’. The evidence for these effects stems from both experimental studies in lab and field, and from population level observational studies. Several experimental studies demonstrate direct effects of perceiving these environments on a variety of physiological and psychological measures. Several observational studies show independent associations between greener environments and better population health. However, this is an emerging field of research with much work still to do to confirm, quantify and qualify any positive impacts on health. If it is true that contact with nature brings health benefits, the cost of providing and accessing such environments, the subsequent health benefits and the relative merits of such ‘environmental health care’ need to be weighed carefully.

The Forestry Commission and other forest agencies are engaged in many programmes of woodland improvement and creation, with the explicit aim of increasing the use of woodlands and prompting health benefits. These programmes provide useful natural experiments through which health impacts of environmental interventions might be assessed. However, the specifics of how any health economic analysis might be applied to these situations are not clear. The prevailing methodology employed in health economic evaluation, is to use ‘Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs)’ to measure health benefits of interventions in favour of the more traditional monetary measures typically used for economic appraisal in areas such as environmental and transport economics. While the QALY framework may be appropriate for Health Related Quality of Life benefits of interventions relating to the woodland environment, the broader evaluative framework offered by cost-benefit analysis might be more appropriate for the broader wellbeing aspects of the environment.

The purpose of the PhD project will be to explore the potential use of economic appraisal techniques to value and evaluate woodland interventions. A broad perspective will be adopted to explore the potential to use and combine methods from environmental, health and transport economics.

Funding Notes:

Person specification:

Applicants should hold a first class or upper second class degree in economics and preferably have demonstrable interest in, and experience of health economics. A master’s qualification in a relevant discipline would be an advantage.

Award details:

This is a 3 year full time studentship and will provide an annual stipend and fees. The award is available to UK and other EU nationals only.

References:

How to Apply – Please send a full CV including the contact details of 2 referees and a covering letter explaining why you are particularly suitable for this post via email to Prof Richard Mitchell (Richard.Mitchell@glasgow.ac.uk) and Professor Andy Briggs (andrew.briggs@glasgow.ac.uk)

Further details: More details on the project, the supervisors and the departments involved is available from Professor Richard Mitchell (Richard.Mitchell@glasgow.ac.uk), Professor Andy Briggs (andrew.briggs@glasgow.ac.uk)

2 Postdoctoral Research Positions: Available Now!

Two postdoctoral research positions are available from 1st October at the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH) (based at the University of Edinburgh).  Funded through a European Research Council grant, these positions are excellent opportunities for Postdoctoral Researchers in the field of Health and the Environment. Both posts are available from 1st October 2011 for 5 years.

The successful candidates will play key roles in the development of CRESH.

For further details:
http://www.jobs.ed.ac.uk/vacancies/index.cfm?fuseaction=vacancies.detail&vacancy_ref=3014472
Closing date: 29th July 2011

For informal enquiries please contact:
Dr Jamie Pearce (jamie.pearce@ed.ac.uk)
Dr Niamh Shortt (Niamh.Shortt@ed.ac.uk)
Prof Richard Mitchell (Richard.Mitchell@glasgow.ac.uk)

Funding Success: European Research Council

The CRESH team have been successful in securing a grant from the European Research Council entitled ‘Physical Built Environments and Health Inequalities’. The named investigators on the project are Dr Jamie Pearce, Dr Niamh Shortt and Prof Richard Mitchell. The project is funded for five years (2011-16) for €1,399,570.

Mental health and the environment symposium: some thoughts

The CRESH symposium on mental health and the environment was one of those (quite rare) conference days that worked incredibly well. I’m not sure what it was that made the day so interesting and exciting. Perhaps it was the unusual mix of academics, practitioners, policy makers and GPs in the audience, all of whom seemed keen and willing to engage and debate. Perhaps it was the variety of interesting presentations. Whatever the magic ingredients, I came away from the day inspired and full of thoughts. I’d like to share two of them

1) There was much discussion during the day about the nature of ‘evidence’ for the influence of environment on health. There was a clear tension between the desire for evidence from ‘intervention / evaluation’ type studies, which hold the promise of identifying causal mechanisms and offer a higher standard of ‘proof’ about whether environment does or does not hold influence over health (especially if the studies are controlled in some way), and the bulk of existing evidence which stems from observational designs. It certainly feels like the balance of funding available for health research is shifting rapidly to favour study designs which are more experimental than observational. Colleagues of mine have recently had funding requests turned down because of their observational study design, and we have had papers rejected from leading medical journals specifically because of an observational design. This pressure is, rightly or wrongly, asking scientists to work further up the hierarchy of study designs. What concerns me is the extent to which we are ignoring the weakness of experimental / evaluation study designs, especially in a) the extent to which they have external validity (i.e. can we really learn anything about how the wider world works from the controlled and unusual situations that experimental studies either create or exploit) and b) the extent to which we are tempted to believe that what are often relatively short-term studies can really tell us much about how social and physical environments really influence population health and health inequalities. This is a topic to which we intend to return in the next CRESH event. What is the right balance between experimental and observational studies in a portfolio, or mixed economy, of evidence? Is it all over for observation?

2) Critical thinking is essential to the progress of science. If we don’t ask how, and for whom, our results or conclusions might not hold, our work is weaker. If we don’t question how and why we think and research in the way we do, our approaches will not develop. In one area CRESH researches, the health effects of contact with green spaces or natural environments, we frequently encounter land managers, policy makers and planners who adhere to a general orthodoxy that ‘green space is good for you’. The value of critical science is that it makes us aware that not everyone feels comfortable walking in the woods or the park, and that some people even feel threatened by open spaces in the their neighbourhoods. There is plenty of evidence from qualitative and quantitative studies that this is true.

One of the weaknesses of critical thinking in the field at the moment however is that the critique seems to stop at ‘not everyone benefits from green space’. My question is, what do we do with that knowledge? If we can understand how and for whom benefits are not realised, that could help adjust expectations about what green space can deliver, and also help us think through how benefits could be brought to a wider range of people. Perhaps the real value of critical approaches to thinking about environment and health is that they pose these questions.

News about the next CRESH symposium will appear on the site soon. In the meantime, if any attendees want to post their thoughts on the mental health and environment day, please use the form below.

This is a personal post, written by Rich Mitchell. It doesn’t represent the views of ‘CRESH’

Measuring the Big Society: stakeholder consultation

We’ve produced a draft proposal for measuring the baseline and future progress of Big Society at a local level.  We would value thoughts and comments from interested parties on:

  • our approach,
  • our selection of variables with which to measure the Big Society and
  • the methods we propose to use to develop the measure.

Please download the document here and comment by Friday April 22nd.  Many thanks for your involvement.

How do you measure Big Society?

The CRESH team and colleagues from Portsmouth and Liverpool are currently collaborating to produce a ‘blueprint’ for measuring Big Society.  You can read more about the work and funders on the project page.

To design a measure of Big Society begs a question… what is Big Society? Actually defining it is not easy. Although the general idea has been quite clearly articulated by David Cameron, a huge range of supporters, detractors and commentators have been writing and blogging about what it means since the coalition government took power. Opinions vary about what Big Society is and is not. There are also strong views about whether it’s a good thing or not. The government is also now encountering the realities of putting an idea developed in opposition into practice. Tony Blair has some interesting things to say about the difference between having an idea in opposition, and delivering change in government…

Although debates continue about what a Big Society should look like  and what policies the coalition need to build it, its key principle is clear; it represents a desire for a society in which citizens and communities take a vastly increased role in managing, shaping and delivering social and physical infrastructure. As Number 10 wrote in May 2010, their aim is “to create a climate that empowers local people and communities…[to] ‘take power away from politicians and give it to people’” .

We have a sense that some in government believe their job will be done once they change the law to empower people to run local services or to have a say on how their neighbourhood will be developed. The ‘offer’ to participate in a Big Society will have been made and it doesn’t matter who, or if anyone, takes up the offer. Others, however, want to see evidence of changes wrought. Will it alter how much people like you and I are aware of, care about, and get involved in, what’s happening in our local areas? Which communities will do well from it, and which will not?  The fact that Big Society has the potential to affect everyone makes it an important thing to monitor and measure.

At the start of the project, we focused on designing a framework for understanding ‘Big Society’ and identifying the set and sequence of changes which expect to see if it’s ‘successful’. Then, we looked for datasets and indicators to measure each of these things. It’s remarkable how many surveys which would have been useful to monitor and measure the progress of Big Society, have been cut. On Friday, we will visit the Department for Communities and Local Government to present our work so far and hear what they have to say about it. Sometime after that, we will post information about our ‘model’ of Big Society and how it might be measured.

Job Opportunity: Postdoctoral Research Associate

We are seeking to appoint a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the field of Health and the Environment. Based at the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh you will join the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH) which is a virtual centre joining scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Our research is focused on exploring how physical and social environments can influence population health, for better and for worse.

The successful candidate will work with an active research team based in Edinburgh and Glasgow on two research projects. First, they will play a key role in an ESRC funded project that will investigate whether aspects of the physical environment exert an influence on physical activity levels at the individual-level. Second, complete a pilot study to investigate the role of the local physical and social environment in understanding inequalities in health amongst children and adolescents. Both roles will involve working with large social survey, health and environmental datasets, the application of statistical techniques to the data, interpretation of the results, dissemination of findings and developing new research proposals.

Closing date: 7th March 2011

For more information and details on how to apply click here.

Fast food outlets cluster around schools

New CRESH research has found that fast food outlets tend to cluster around schools. The work published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine demonstrated that fast food vendors are five times more likely to cluster around New Zealand schools than in other areas. Using data from four cities, the authors found that outlets are also more likely to be situated in poorer neighbourhoods. The results suggest that the geographical distribution of fast food outlets may be one factor in explaining the increase in obesity rates amongst youths, and its social distribution.

The work has been covered in the New Zealand media. See:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/4575897/Schools-out-and-the-junk-foods-in

 

The academic paper can be found here:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2010.10.018