Research impact

As part of the School’s world-leading research work, we collaborate with partners in the NHS, industry, schools and local government to provide real impact in the field of psychology.

Research impact is the contribution research makes beyond the publication of academic papers – it is the way that the findings of our research and the evidence we generate are used to make a difference in the world. They include new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things, a change in values or culture, a new treatment, device or other intervention or a new product. This effect of research, beyond academia is what makes investment in research so critical to society.

Our excellent research facilities and expert staff have allowed us to impact in a number of diverse areas including new drug targets, new food products and techniques to change health-related behaviour including improvements to patient safety.  For more than 30 years staff in Psychology have worked closely with external partners across the world and have had successful collaborations with the business community such as Danone, Kellogg’s, Unilever and Novo Nordisk

Below are some of the key areas of focus and impact from our collaborations and knowledge partnerships.

Robust methodologies for appetite studies – supporting development and marketing of functional foods and anti-obesity products

Since 1993 researchers from the University of Leeds have devised robust and standardised experimental methodologies to study human appetite and food consumption objectively. Companies in the food and pharmaceutical sectors have used these procedures to develop functional foods and anti-obesity drugs. The validated methodologies have also been used by the global, clinical research organisation Covance to establish its Human Appetite Laboratory to provide product evaluation for US and EU pharmaceutical companies. Food regulators have also recommended the Leeds approach for producing evidence to support appetite control claims for functional foodstuffs. 

Read more about the case study.

Appetite research for Novo Nordisk

Translational research on appetite continues and an important  collaboration between Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, Covance Clinical Research Unit and the Appetite Control and Energy Balance Research group (ACEB) has demonstrated the application of the Leeds method to testing a novel drug target.

Professor John Blundell, Professor Graham Finlayson and Dr Catherine Gibbons designed then implemented a12-week intervention with weekly doses of a novel drug (Semaglutide). The drug is similar in action to a peptide called GLP-1, which is known to increase feelings of fullness and reduce appetite after food consumption.

Various tools expertly designed by ACEB were used in the study, for example hunger ratings, measurements of food consumption, measures of cravings and food preference. Additional measures were completed in our research unit employing specialist facilities, specifically measures of body composition (bodpod) and resting metabolic rate (GEM Nutrition) were conducted. 

The drug resulted in significant weight loss with an average of 5kg over 12 weeks. The majority of weight lost was fat mass, rather than fat-free mass. Furthermore, people ate less food, showed reductions in food cravings and decreases in preference for high-fat foods. Full results of this study have been published in a scientific peer-reviewed article. Furthermore, the results were widely reported in the media with a number of press releases about this study highlighting the wide-reaching nature of the research.

Our work with Novo Nordisk and subsequent publication of the semaglutide paper (GLP-1 agonist) in Diabetes Obesity & Metabolism was an important development in the field. This is now the most downloaded publication from the journal’s website. It has provided the pharmaceutical industry with tangible, scientifically validated clinical endpoints in appetite control for drugs targeting the central nervous system. It was also the first demonstration in humans that GLP-1 inverse agonists work through food reward mechanisms as well as reducing overall drive to eat.

As the insight we produced for Novo Nordisk demonstrates, we're uniquely placed as a research group with the facilities and combined expertise that can be utilized to provide huge value to a variety of partners.

Patient health behaviour

Prevention is better than the cure and, through our research into patient health behaviour, we've taken steps to provide professionals with a system to address health issues before they materialise through improving patient health behaviours.

Working in partnership with NHS Leeds, we are developing a toolkit that can be used by healthcare professionals to help their patients to stop smoking, reduce their alcohol intake, improve their diet and become more physically active. It was important that this toolkit be convenient to use, evidence-based, and capable of delivering personalised care for each patient.

We have employed a range of methods to ensure the toolkit is convenient to use (Elwell, Povey, Grogan, Allen, & Prestwich, Health Psychology Review); psychometric work to develop screening measures that quickly and reliably identify the barriers patients face to changing their health behaviours; systematic reviews and meta-analyses to identify which behaviour change techniques are most effective for specific types of patient (Prestwich, Kellar, Parker, MacRae, Learmonth, Sykes, Taylor, & Castle, Psychology & Health).

Ultimately, we are working towards developing and integrating a system that will revolutionise healthcare delivery, helping to shift the focus from curing illness to preventing it through the promotion of key health behaviours.

Achieving Behaviour Change for patient safety

Many things we do in healthcare to improve safety, such as introducing new guidelines or technologies, require NHS staff to change their behaviour. But simply telling people what to do is no guarantee they will do it. In reality, behaviour change can be hard to achieve. 

The Achieving Behaviour Change (ABC) for patient safety approach is based on behaviour change theory, and was developed by Rebecca Lawton, University of Leeds and other members of the Yorkshire Quality and Safety Research Group.

In one project, we applied the ABC approach to the practice of pH testing for correct nasogastric tube placement. These tubes are used for feeding patients and delivering medicines when patients are not well enough to eat and drink themselves.

In 2017/18, the incorrect placement of tubes led to 26 cases of serious harm or death in the UK. The aim of this project was to increase the use of pH testing to check that the tubes were correctly placed in the stomach and reduce x-rays.

We evaluated the approach and found that, as a result of our work in three Trusts, use of x-ray fell from 55% to 24% with estimated net savings per participating Trust of £29,573 in the first year to £57,205 in subsequent years and £1 million and £1.94 million respectively across the region.

To ensure the spread of these ideas we have now delivered ABC workshops to over 950 people from all the acute Trusts in Yorkshire and Humber, as well as GP practices, care homes and community organisations. We are working with the Academic Health Science Network Improvement Academy to do this.

This work has sparked innovative ideas about how new technology could overcome some of the existing difficulties of checking nasogastric tube placement. With National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care funding, we worked with Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to proof of concept test, and assess the user acceptability of, a new portable, non-invasive device to check nasogastric tube placement. 

Working with an industry partner, Roboscientific and Medipex Ltd, we have now secured £1m (Medical Research Council Biomedical catalyst: Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme) to develop and test a prototype device, called “NG-Sure”.

For our previous research impact in the area of patient safety, view our REF 2014 case study on Influencing the introduction, design and use of safer devices for spinal injections in the UK NHS

Born in Bradford

The Born in Bradford cohort study was established in 2007 as a partnership between the Universities of Leeds, Bradford, and York, and the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Through this unique and exciting study we are examining how genetic, nutritional, environmental, behavioural and social factors impact on health and development during childhood, and subsequently adult life. Between 2007 and 2011, detailed information on socio-economic characteristics, ethnicity and family trees, lifestyle factors, environmental risk factors and physical and mental health was collected from over 12, 000 pregnant women, resulting in over 13, 500 children joining the cohort. Researchers in the School of Psychology (Professor Mark Mon-Williams, Dr Amanda Waterman and Dr Liam Hill) have led on the assessment of children’s sensorimotor and cognitive skills once they started formal education, with these measures then combined with routine health, education and social care data. This has allowed the identification of key early life factors that influence outcomes for children, and has led to policy changes and trials of interventions.

Demonstrating the benefits of breakfast for school aged children: Policy, commercial, and health impact

We have carried out research on the effect of breakfast on cognitive function, academic performance, and in-class behaviour over the past 15 years. This research has helped the food industry deliver evidence-based marketing strategies and informed national breakfast club provision in the UK. Our research has also influenced UK and European Policy. Professor Louise Dye produced a report that provided an analysis of information on, and promotion of breakfast, in 16 European countries. This report is a reference benchmark to evaluate public policies related to breakfast consumption in Europe’s figures. It was funded by the Breakfast is Best (BIB) campaign, whose membership includes the European Breakfast Cereal Association, the European Medical Association, the European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians and the European Club of Paediatric Dietitians.

V… is for Vegetable.  Encouraging children to eat a Rainbow

Children do not eat enough vegetables and in part this is because they are not liked and some are unfamiliar. Our research has been conducted to investigate ways to encourage liking and familiarity as early as possible in the infant’s life.  Funded by the EU FP7 through the Industry Academic Partnership Pathway (IAPP) a collaboration with Danone was established to investigate complementary feeding and ways to promote healthy eating patterns through infant feeding.  An international congress to discuss and disseminate findings from the VIVA research project involved healthcare professionals, researchers, industry members, and stakeholders. The congress shared new research on infant feeding recommendations, qualitative approaches to early feeding, and a randomised control trial to test the impact of short interventions to enhance liking for vegetables early in life. Our motto of eating a rainbow is to reflect the need for children to eat a variety of different colours of vegetables in their diet.

The IAPP has generated a number of papers on how to increase vegetable intake in children and since then we have developed a consensus statement on using a Vegetables First Approach to Complementary Feeding. This statement was published in collaboration with Ella’s Kitchen who have produced a range of pure vegetable purees to encourage infants to learn to like vegetables. 

Improving road safety through Direct Vision Standards for trucks

Traditional Heavy goods vehicle (HGV) cab designs lead to ‘blind-spots’, large regions which the driver cannot directly see, and which are associated with an increase in vehicle-pedestrian collisions: in 2018 across the EU 4,002 people died in collisions involving HGVs (a total of 45,881 over a 10 year period, CARE database, May 2018). Reducing casualties requires HGV cabs to be improved but this is costly so has been resisted by vehicle manufacturers. Our research provides the first evidence that direct vision (viewing directly through the window rather than indirectly via mirrors) can improve driver response times (by 0.7s), and thereby reduce collisions with pedestrians. These findings informed 1) the development of the world’s first “direct vision standards” (DVS) by Transport for London, 2) the proposed adoption of DVS by the European Commission.

Read more about this case study in the summary report and technical report

A novel tool facilitating objective identification of children with motor control difficulties for timely treatment and support

The ‘Clinical Kinematic Assessment Tool’ (CKAT) is an innovative system that detects the 5% of children with motor control problems who, as a result, experience academic and social disadvantage - which increases the likelihood of educational difficulties, anxiety and depression. CKAT’s development is led by Professor Mark Mon-Williams at the University of Leeds, in partnership with the University of Aberdeen. Since 2012, CKAT has been used in 88 primary schools in Bradford. All Reception Year children (aged 4-5 years) are CKAT screened (~4,000 children annually) with teachers using this information to prompt further assessment and additional classroom support. CKAT is now being commercialised via a licensing deal (2012) with a Scottish SME.

Read more about the case study.