Focus areas and aims

We focus on the study of:

  • the food environment
  • determinants of obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • non-communicable diseases

with the aim of creating policy-relevant evidence for the design and implementation of effective and sustainable public health solutions.

What is the 'food environment'?

The food environment can be defined as the combination of the physical, economic, political, and sociocultural surroundings as well as the opportunities and conditions that can influence an individual’s food choice. The food environment includes geographic access, food availability, food affordability and food quality and it can influence people’s dietary choices and lifestyles through different macro and microgeographical scales such as city, state, region, national and global macroscales as well as neighbourhood, school and workplace microscales. Furthermore, the food environment can be separated into the community and the consumer environment. The community environment refers primarily to the type and location of the retail food environment in different settings such as neighbourhood, school or work, whilst the consumer environment comprises the availability, placement and information of food within food stores. Obesogenic environments, such as food deserts and food swamps, have been previously linked to a higher risk of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). However, there is a lack of understanding of how the environment affects people’s health and how it can be effectively modified to reduce the burden of obesity and other NCDs.

More than 41 million children under the age of five and 1.9 billion adults suffer from obesity. Obesity is one of the main risk factors for many NCDs. It is influenced by a complex, multifaceted system of determinants. However, what is most important is that it is preventable. Among the modifiable determinants of obesity is the food environment, which plays a crucial role in food selection and dietary intake and therefore, the prevention of obesity and other NCDs.


Key group members

The Food Environment Group was created by the School of Public Health Research (SPHR) and the Centre for Health Economics & Policy Innovation (CHEPI). The group is led by Prof Franco Sassi, Prof Chris Millett and Prof Gary Frost as PIs and the researchers Dr Marisa Miraldo, Dr Elisa Pineda, Dr Eszter Vamos, Dr Anthony Laverty, Dr Dian Kusuma, Dr Timothy Chambers and Dr Elisabetta Aurino. Through their expertise in public health, spatial epidemiology, economics and policy analysis, they undertake interdisciplinary research that brings together scientists, government, business and civil society stakeholders.

Key group members

Project overviews

Does childhood obesity hinder human capital development?

PI: Prof Franco Sassi
Funder: Health Foundation
Duration: January 2018 – December 2021


The focus of this project is to establish the causal pathways that link childhood obesity to human capital development, social outcomes and the food environment. Educational attainment, labour market outcomes, indicators of civic participation and measures of the food environment will be studied in three UK cohorts.

The project will address an important set of research questions on the social and economic impacts of childhood obesity by leveraging some of the most detailed longitudinal data sources available in the UK. Innovative approaches will be implemented to assess causality and the determinants that influence health and social outcomes with the aim of impacting the actions of key stakeholders involved in addressing childhood obesity.

The study will rely on two national cohort studies reflecting the lives of individuals born in 1958 and 1970 and on a local cohort study of children born in 1991-92 providing a unique set of information based on biomarkers, anthropometric measures, linkages with rich administrative data, along with more traditional survey questions. One of the aspects that this study will focus on will be the research of the food environment and its impact on dietary choices and health outcomes in children in the UK.

NIHR Global Health Research Centre on CVD and Diabetes in South Asians

PI: Prof John Chambers (FoM)
Business School Co-I’s: Prof Franco Sassi & Dr Marisa Miraldo
Funder: National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)
Duration: June 2017 – March 2021
Business School staff involved: Dr Elisa Pineda and Dr Dian Kusuma


Cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes are leading health problems. Every year, 18 million people die from cardiovascular diseases (1/3rd of all deaths); whilst 420 million people live with Type 2 diabetes. The burden of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is particularly high in South Asia, one of the most densely populated regions in the world. India alone has more than 62 million people living with cardiovascular disease and more than 56 million with Type 2 diabetes. Both diseases cause a financial burden on individuals, their families and the societies they live in. Cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes are thus important contributors to poverty, inequality and social instability. There is an urgent need to find new approaches to reduce the burden of these diseases, especially in South Asia.

Our Global Health Research Unit comes together as a close collaboration between experts at Imperial College London and leading academic and clinical institutions in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to research the causes and potential interventions that can be implemented to overcome these public health issues.

One of the main areas of focus for this study will be the monitoring and benchmarking of the food retail environment and policies in South Asian countries with the aim of designing and implementing interventions to tackle the burden of cardiovascular diseases and Type 2 diabetes.

Science & Technology in childhood Obesity Policy (STOP)

PI: Prof Franco Sassi (coordinating partner)
Funder: European Commission (H2020 SC2)
Duration: June 2018 – May 2022
Business School staff involved: Dr Elisa Pineda, Dr Timothy Chambers and Mr Ali Belabess


The STOP project has brought together a range of key health and food sector actors to generate scientifically sound and policy-relevant evidence on the factors that have contributed to the spread of childhood obesity in European Countries. Over the course of four years, the European Commission-funded collaborative will posit alternative policy options to address the problem.

The research will expand and consolidate the multidisciplinary evidence base upon which effective and sustainable policies can be built to prevent and manage childhood obesity. STOP also aims to create the conditions for evidence to translate into policy and for policy to translate into impacts on the ground.

The primary focus of STOP is on the cumulative impacts of multiple and synergistic exposures in vulnerable and socially disadvantaged children and their families, which must be a priority target for the fight against childhood obesity in Europe to reach a tipping point and succeed. STOP will identify critical stages in childhood (starting from prenatal exposures) at which interventions can be most effective and efficient.

The project has adopted a trans-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approach, in a “Health-in-all-policies” framework. In the pursuit of these goals, the project will benefit from the support and contributions of partners from non-European countries (the United States and New Zealand), who will complement the expertise of European partners and share valuable experiences in addressing childhood obesity.

A major determinant of childhood obesity that will be studied within STOP is the food environment. Changes in the food retail environment, including innovative ways of providing nutrition content information to consumers or displaying foods in stores that may incentivise healthier food choices, as well as health inequalities will be studied. The monitoring and benchmarking of food environments and policies will be undertaken to generate guidelines and policy recommendations for the prevention of childhood obesity.

Influence of urban environment on measures of adiposity and cardio-metabolic health in children

PI: Prof Franco Sassi and Prof Chris Millet
Funder: European Commission (H2020 SC2)
Duration: February 2019 – May 2022
Business School staff involved: Dr Elisa Pineda


Childhood obesity prevalence has increased at alarming rates and is a major public health concern in many countries, including the UK. Obesity can have serious repercussions in children’s physical and mental health, which can continue into adulthood. Children’s surrounding environment is one of the risk factors that can be modified to improve children’s diets and health outcomes.

As part of the STOP project, this study will employ existing data sources with repeated measurements from the Avon Longitudinal study of parents and children (ALSPAC). ALSPAC is a longitudinal birth cohort study, which enrolled pregnant women who were resident in one of three Bristol-based health districts in the former County of Avon with an expected delivery date between 1991 and 1992.

This study will assess the urban environment through geospatial methods including food availability and walkability. It will then prospectively assess the relationship between urban environment measures, health outcomes and individual obesogenic behaviours, including diet, physical and sedentary activities, screen time, sleep and commuting among children.

Results from this study will add to our understanding of the influence of the food and physical environment among children and identify critical periods for intervention. This study will also generate evidence on the socio-demographic drivers of different food environments and obesity. The findings may provide casual evidence needed to support stronger industry regulatory measures and focused public policies including evidence-based food environment recommendations and guidelines and to improve the design of public health efforts that address the growing prevalence of overweight and Type 2 diabetes among British children, especially those from ethnic minorities.