Photo of NPDH staff in 2019

Our Focus

Despite improvements in life expectancy seen in developed countries in recent decades, health problems, particularly from long-term chronic conditions, still result in avoidable suffering for millions of people around the world.

The Nuffield Department of Population Health (NDPH) was created in July 2013 to undertake research and train scientists to seek answers to some of the most important questions about the causes, prevention and treatment of disease. We lead human health forward by reducing disability and premature death in both the developed and developing worlds. The challenges we face are increasingly complex and require evidence from large studies and collaboration across multiple disciplines and with other scientists around the world.

Our visual identity and brand name – Oxford Population Health – were introduced in 2021 to demonstrate our particular focus on population health science and our bold approach to preventing avoidable suffering and death. Our new visual identity reflects our purpose and clarifies the relationship between the department, the University, and our six longstanding research groups.

Our Approach

Large-scale

Our studies involve large numbers of people from many countries around the world. Our volunteers understand the importance of research not just to their own health, but to future generations as well. Our researchers work on the world's largest and most detailed observational epidemiological studies, such as:

These studies are building rich health resources that will transform our understanding of disease. They have already provided insights into a wide range of conditions such as heart disease, cancer, dementia, and diabetes.

For more than 40 years the work of the NPEU has pioneered research into pregnancy, childbirth and the health of mothers and babies. The unit has tackled key questions, for example, the Birthplace Cohort Study of 65,000 women reported on the comparative risks and benefits of giving birth in an obstetric unit, midwifery unit or at home.  

Population-based

Our research spans different populations and settings. As well as observational epidemiological studies, we conduct randomised controlled trials to assess the benefits and risks of new treatments, or old treatments used in new ways, among a wide range of different people.

Some of our randomised trials are the largest studies ever undertaken in their area of research. For example, the CORONIS trial was the largest study evaluating different techniques for caesarean section (16,000 participants from seven countries) and the REVEAL trial was the largest investigation of a treatment to modify blood cholesterol in people with some form of circulatory disease (30,000 volunteers from 10 countries).

Since March 2020, we have been leading the RECOVERY trial in collaboration with the Nuffield Department of Medicine. The trial quickly became the fastest-recruiting in medical history and provided the first breakthrough in the COVID-19 response – the finding that the inexpensive steroid, dexamethasone, saves the lives of severely ill patients.

We have longstanding expertise in health services research – research into the working of services provided by health professionals and healthcare systems including studies of healthcare needs, provision, use, costs and outcomes. For more than 30 years, HSRU has been finding out what matters most to patients through the development of Patient Reported Outcomes Measures (PROMS) for many long-term chronic conditions such as knee pain, Parkinson's disease, endometriosis, and cognitive impairment. In addition, HERC has been at the forefront of evaluating the cost-effectiveness of treatments used in a range of conditions.

We also assess practical ways to deal with modern health problems at a population level, for example, our food and diet groups are evaluating the promotion of physical activity and more effective food labelling to tackle the growing obesity epidemic. In the area of ethics, our ETHOX centre is pioneering research and policy on a diverse range of issues, including the ethical and societal implications of large-scale genomic testing, biobanking and data privacy. 

Global

Here are a few examples of the global span of our research: 

  • Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group (EBCTCG) - brings together more than 600 researchers from around 50 countries, and over the last three decades their meta-analyses have helped improve survival for women with breast cancer.
  • Global Health Bioethics Network - is a network we co-ordinate which carries out ethics research and builds capacity with scientists and researchers in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Premature death in Russian men - the  extraordinarily high and fluctuating death rates of Russian adults, particularly men, are mainly due to hazardous patterns of use of alcoholic spirits (particularly vodka), aggravated by widespread tobacco use. Working with David Zaridze from Moscow, we confirmed this by analyses of nationwide Russian mortality patterns, by a retrospective study of the family-reported drinking habits of 50,000 dead Russians, and by a prospective study that followed 150,000 Russian adults for 10 years. .