Tackling obesity

Tackling obesity

Apply for funding to develop effective strategies to tackle overweight and obesity.

‘Tackling obesity’ is open to applications submitted to the Population and Systems Medicine Board.

Funding, Opportunities
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The challenge

Both developed and emerging economies are facing rising levels of obesity. Obesity can contribute to mental health problems and also lead to reduced life expectancy. It is a risk factor for a range of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, arthritis, liver and respiratory disease.

A complex interaction of societal, environmental, behavioural and biological factors has made us vulnerable to weight gain. Obesity and related conditions cost the NHS in the region of £6 billion, and that is without including the significant costs of social care.

Research remit

We are seeking multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary applications to tackle overweight and obesity. The research should support evidence-based approaches to improve health in real-life settings.

In particular, we wish to better understand what makes an effective intervention. We aim to do this by encouraging greater integration and synergy across existing pockets of expertise in the biological, behavioural, psychological, environmental and social sciences.

We invite researchers from a range of backgrounds to join forces to apply to this board priority. Applications should be innovative, cross-disciplinary and collaborative, and include partnerships between basic, clinical and social scientists, and with other stakeholders.

Applications should provide robust evidence to improve public health in real-life settings by:

  • providing a holistic understanding of the important factors influencing obesity


  • developing effective strategies (individual, societal, or both) to tackle overweight and obesity

Applications should help identify specific mechanisms for obesity development and progression at key transition points across the life course or in vulnerable groups, or both. Purely observational research and descriptive association studies are not within scope for this board priority.

As examples, applications might include one or more of the following:

  • interventions at individual and population levels, and at key stages in the lifecourse, which prevent or reverse obesity and its adverse health outcomes and address health inequalities
  • investigation of the dynamic associations between biology, behaviour, diet, environmental and social science to understand the key features of effective prevention or treatment interventions for obesity
  • investigation of basic mechanisms, alongside other appropriate approaches such as experimental medicine and natural experiments, to help identify cause and effect
  • identification of at-risk groups, novel targets, mechanisms and markers which could transform treatments for obesity
  • focus on areas where impact will be greatest particularly weight gain in children and young adults and effective interventions to achieve weight loss and maintain a healthy weight. This might include diet and physical activity or wider determinants, or both
  • provide attractive training opportunities beyond traditional research fields by developing individuals with the necessary expertise across disciplines to drive forward interdisciplinary obesity research

Applications should aim to:

  • provide new insights on obesity by combining and building on:
    • existing resources (for example, cohorts, epidemiological studies, clinical trials, intervention studies, NHS and other data)
    • strengths in data linkage expertise
  • achieve greater understanding of the dynamic systems which lead to obesity by:
    • enhancing and merging data resources from different domains
    • engaging with a range of relevant stakeholders (for example, local authorities; councils; the public; a broad set of relevant industries such as pharma, food and retail industries, new technologies, artificial intelligence and social media)

Multidisciplin ary teams and partnerships

Applications should include:

  • partnership with researchers in relevant areas beyond obesity and nutrition
  • partnerships between established investigators working in relevant areas, but who are new to the field

MRC will usually fund costs toward international research partners if they provide expertise not available in the UK.

This priority area will thereby continue to build this field by developing:

  • increased capacity in obesity research
  • multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teams to tackle the significant research challenges in this area

Research applications should include appropriate public and patient involvement and engagement, where appropriate. Please see public engagement for more information.




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