We use cookies on this website. By continuing to use this site without changing your cookie settings, you agree that you are happy to accept our cookies and for us to access these on your device. Find out more about how we use cookies and how to change your cookie settings.

Connecting environment, nutrition and health

Humanity faces profound questions over how our planet can sustain and feed 9 billion people by 2050. There is a global nutrition crisis, with a dual problem of hunger and obesity. Meanwhile, climate change has major implications for global health and nutrition - with impacts on food security, access to clean water and sanitation, population migration and the threat of an increased number of natural disasters. Research has a critical role in meeting these challenges by delivering solutions that are appropriate to cultural, social and economic contexts.

Understanding the complexity of risk factors and the elements that influence lifestyle decisions will be key to improving public health. To cause a fundamental shift in behaviour, both for individuals and populations, we must engage the public effectively and explore the hopes, needs and concerns of society.

The Wellcome Trust wants to foster multidisciplinary research to address these problems. We want to inform the global response, and will work in partnership with others to put health at the core of sustainable development.

We have issued a call for proposals to promote collaborative research in the area of sustaining health.

Examples of our funding

This is an emerging challenge for the Trust and we will be developing our response to it over the next ten years. The following illustrates the work we have funded with relevance to this challenge.

Global nutrition The Access to Nutrition Index was developed in partnership with the Gates Foundation and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition to rate food and beverage manufacturers' performance in providing nutritious products to consumers. The Index aims to encourage best practice among the global food and beverage industry to address both obesity and under-nutrition. The Index has a global scope and was launched in March 2013, with more indices focused on South Africa, Mexico and India to follow.

Through the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, the Wellcome Trust supports Centres of Excellence in Public Health Research such as The Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) and the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer) that study factors that influence dietary and activity related behaviours, develop and evaluate interventions, and help shape health practice and policy in this area.
Behaviour change

Pedro Hallal's Investigator Award is focused on understanding the determinants and consequences of physical activity informing interventions and policy for global action.

A trial of an innovative behaviour change intervention to promote handwashing with soap in households in rural India showed a 16 per cent increase in observed handwashing with soap in the intervention arm, compared with controls. The apparent success of this intervention makes it a potentially important public health tool.

Health impacts of climate change

The Task Force on Climate Change Mitigation and Public Health, supported by a consortium of funding bodies and coordinated by the Wellcome Trust, concluded that many measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have positive impacts for health. The study looked at household energy, transport, food and agriculture and electricity generation and the findings have been widely used by the World Health Organization in climate change negotiations.

Ecological public health

Research to examine the interdependence between humans, animals, microbes and their environment is vital to understand the complex relationship between risk factors and health consequences. The Insect Pollinators Initiative will lead to a better understanding of the threats to insect pollinators and our funding for the Millennium Seed Bank (Kew) is helping to conserve worldwide flora.

Technology company Thermofluidics has received a Translation Award from the Wellcome Trust to develop an innovative, low-cost irrigation pump to improve the health of smallholders in low-income countries.

Global dialogue and context

To explore the ethical, social and cultural issues relating to these global challenges, we promote activities to inform and engage the public. These have included 'Ecotoxic', a collaboration led by Arts Catalyst between artists, biologists and environmental scientists to highlight the interconnections between human technology, ecology, and the health of species; 'Invisible Heat', an arts project coordinated by Invisible Dust on the health effects of climate change, including disease and displacement from flooding, mental illness, food insecurity and air pollution; and 'Honeyscribe', which is exploring the relationship between bee health, human health, the environment and the arts, including the Florilegium, a light box installation illuminating floral sources vital for bees to sustain their colonies.

Sorry, but you need Flash Player 8 or higher to view the media player Download Flash

Showreel Watch our showreel featuring just a few of the Trust-funded activities relating to this research challenge.

In this short interview for Wellcome Trust, Sir David Attenborough discusses some of the most pressing issues facing the environment, humanity's future and how we might address those challenges.

Sorry, but you need Flash Player 8 or higher to view the media player Download Flash

Running time: 6 mins 56 s

For full information on this challenge, see our Strategic Plan 2010-20. Details of the support we provide to researchers can be found in Funding.

Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK T:+44 (0)20 7611 8888