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Non-Communicable Diseases

Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes and Obesity

Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity all arise from an interplay of an individual’s genetic make-up with their behaviour and environment. The growing trend of urbanisation, changing diet and reducing physical activity, coupled with increasing life expectancy means that the impact of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is a growing concern, especially in parts of the world where health resources are scarce.

In addition, the combination of environmental factors, diminishing air quality, and increasing consumption of tobacco are adding to the burden of respiratory disease in parts of the world where public health knowledge and regulations may not be a priority.

The urban setting, where over 50% of the world now resides, often originates from spontaneous and unplanned growth. Planning for mobility, exercise, recreation, water and sanitation is often lacking and a contributing factor of ill health. The Centre for Global Health Research aims to inform and promote an urban environment more supportive of health and healthy behaviours.

Around 75% of all deaths from NCDs, and 82% of ‘premature’ deaths (i.e. before the age of 70), occur in low and middle income countries.

The MRC Epidemiology Unit is a partner in the Wellcome Trust–Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research and is developing a portfolio of work aimed at contributing to the prevention and control of non-communicable disease in low and middle income countries through intervening on the underlying determinants of physical inactivity and unhealthy diets.

Our approach builds on techniques, methods and expertise developed across our research programmes and at the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR). We have a number of international collaborations in low and middle income countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South and South East Asia, and China. In collaboration with partner institutions in these regions, we have four main goals:

Measuring behaviours. We will measure current levels and trends in physical activity and die using combinations of objective and subjective methods. We will estimate the contribution of these behaviours to NCD illness and mortality, including their contribution relative to smoking and excess alcohol consumption.

Investigating determinants. We will investigate the social, environmental, economic and other factors that influence diet and physical activity behaviours. This will be achieved through a combination of observational and intervention studies. The evaluation of ‘natural experiments’ will play an important role in identifying determinants of diet and physical activity and in evaluating the impact of policy measures.

Informing intervention. We will inform and evaluate interventions and policies designed to modify the determinants of diet and physical activity. We will use public health modelling to estimate the health impact and interaction of different interventions.

Building capacity. We will support researchers in low and middle income countries to undertake research and guide policy. We will establish a research capacity building network with collaborating institutions. A research capacity building network will be established between all collaborating institutions. Activities will include joint PhD supervision, post-doctoral training, provision of short courses, and staff and student exchanges.

Key collaborators

The Wellcome Trust – MRC institute of Metabolic Science (IMS) brings together clinicians, laboratory and clinical scientists and epidemiologists to study the genetic, developmental and environmental factors that cause obesity, diabetes and related metabolic disorders. The outcomes from these studies are then used to develop strategies for the prevention of these diseases both clinically and in the general population.

Within the IMS, the MRC Epidemiology Unit has a number of international collaborations, conducts studies with global relevance and reach, and hosts and trains in researchers from around the world.

In addition The Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit (CEU) is a multidisciplinary unit of over 60 staff and students that aims to advance understanding and prevention of cardiovascular disease through population health research.


Research projects 

Cardiovascular Research

Diabetes and Obesity Research

Related Networks and Initiatives


The Cambridge Centre for Global Health Research is funded by the Wellcome Trust. In close collaboration with The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, it supports researchers working in public health and tropical medicine to develop their careers, and foster interchange between institutions in the UK and those based in low- and middle-income countries.


Hearts' empath, Credit: oedipusphinx, the JWDban's photostream on flickr