Health of the public in 2040

The Academy has undertaken a project exploring how the UK’s research environment needs to adapt to meet the complex health challenges the population will face by 2040.



Over the coming decades, the UK population will face a wide range of complex health challenges and opportunities, many of which can only be fully addressed through strategies to secure and improve the health of the public as a whole. The Academy’s report, ‘Improving the health of the public by 2040’, explores how to organise our research environment to generate and translate the evidence needed to underpin such strategies.

The report concludes that while public health research has provided fundamental insights into human health, there remains much we do not know about the complex array of interlinking factors that influence the health of the public, and about how to prevent and solve the many health challenges we face as a population.

Solving these challenges will require shifting towards a ‘health of the public’ approach, involving disciplines that would not usually be considered to be within the public health field. This is turn requires six key developments:

  1. Rebalancing and enhancing the coordination of research.
  2. Harnessing new technologies and the digital revolution.
  3. Developing transdisciplinary research capacity.
  4. Aligning perspectives and approaches between clinical and public health practice.
  5. Working with all sectors of society, including policymakers, practitioners, the commercial sector and the public.
  6. Engaging globally.

The project was kindly supported by Wellcome and the Medical Research Council.


1. To recommend to relevant decision-makers the requirements for supporting the health of the UK population in 2040 – in terms of research evidence, research capacity, research infrastructure and the mechanisms for translating research into practice. Specifically, the project will consider how to:     

  • Capitalise on the opportunities created by advances in all areas of science and technology.
  • Bring together and ensure necessary research capacity across the full range of disciplines required to address future challenges.
  • Ensure an appropriate interface between researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

2. In pursuit of this aim, to address the following questions in the context of the future health of the UK population:

  • What are expected to be the main challenges by 2040, and what are the opportunities to address them?
  • What are the research and research infrastructure requirements to address these challenges and realise these opportunities?
  • How can we effectively train and link researchers and practitioners?
  • How can we ensure that the development of public policy and practice is informed by evidence (including from evaluation)?

The final report is aimed at policymakers, funders, researchers (including trainees), professional and regulatory bodies, public health service providers, and the public. It was published in Summer 2016.

Professor Dame Anne Johnson DBE FMedSci [Chair]
Chair of the Population and Lifelong Health Domain, and Vice-Dean for External and International Relations, Faculty of Population Health Sciences, UCL

Professor Carol Brayne FMedSci
Director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge

Professor Rachel Cooper OBE
Professor of Design Management, University of Lancaster

Professor Yvonne Doyle
Regional Director for London, Public Health England

Professor David Ford
Professor of Health Informatics and Chair of the College of Medicine, Swansea University

Professor Sarah Harper
Director of the Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford

Dr Srinivasa Vittal Katikireddi
Senior Clinical Research Fellow in Public Health, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow

Professor Catherine Law CBE FMedSci
Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology, UCL Institute of Child Health

Professor Paul Little FMedSci
Professor of Primary Care Research, University of Southampton

Professor Dame Sally Macintyre DBE FMedSci
Honorary Senior Research Fellow and Professor Emeritus, University of Glasgow

Professor Johan Mackenbach
Chair of the Department of Public Health at Erasmus MC, University Medical Centre, Rotterdam

Professor Theresa Marteau FMedSci
Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit, University of Cambridge

Councillor Jonathan McShane
Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture, London Borough of Hackney

Dr Geoff Mulgan CBE
Chief Executive of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (Nesta)

Baron Peter Piot CMG FMedSci
Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Professor Jules Pretty OBE
Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Environment & Society, University of Essex

Professor David Stuckler
Professor of Political Economy and Sociology, University of Oxford

Project launch and visioning workshop [November 2014]
The project was formally launched in November 2014 with a day-long workshop, chaired by Professor Dame Anne Johnson DBE FMedSci, which brought together a diverse, interdisciplinary mix of stakeholders to explore aspirations for the desired state of the nation’s health in 2040 and the drivers likely to influence the direction of change over the next 25 years. This workshop significantly informed the working group’s early discussions. A report summarising the event has since been published.

Call for written input [March 2015] 
A call for input was launched in early March to build on the outputs of the initial workshop and other research conducted by the working group. Closing on 4 May, the call for input allowed the working group to hear a broad range of views and aspirations concerning the future health of the UK population

Verbal input sessions [May – July 2015]
Seven roundtable discussions were subsequently hosted to supplement the written input received, with each focusing on a specific set of influencing factors identified in the earlier stages of the project:

  • The built and natural environment
  • Education and working life
  • Technological change
  • Demographic change, family life and relationships
  • Economic and political systems
  • Health-related behaviours
  • Health systems and health protection 

Through these sessions, working group members were able to probe particular areas of interest in more detail, focusing on the research implications of the information gathered, in order to support the development of conclusions and recommendations.

Second stakeholder workshop [July 2015] 
A second one-day stakeholder workshop was held on 29 July. As with the roundtable discussions, its main focus was to explore the research implications of the work completed by the working group so far. The event was attended by around 50 key stakeholders, with a particular focus on researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and those working in research infrastructure.

Launch of the report [September 2016]
The final report of the project was published on 27 September 2016.


The Academy curated a series of dialogue events, in order to gather a snapshot of public views to feed into the project.

The total programme of public events consisted of seven film screenings and six workshops around the UK, supported by a Wellcome Trust People Award.

The film screenings showed a collection of public health announcements from the twentieth century, which are often highly amusing. The screenings were accompanied by a panel of experts to provide modern context and to explore future trajectories of these fields. These films are available from the Wellcome Trust archive

The workshops brought together small groups to discuss the future of public health, and people's individual fears and aspirations.

The cities covered by this programme of events were London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Cheltenham (at the Science Festival) , Newcastle, Glasgow, Liverpool and Brighton. 

For more information about the Academy's public engagement work, visit our "Encouraging dialogue" section

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