Public health is more than a medical issue. It also involves particular politics and economics, the natural environment, food quality and safety, the built environment, and everything else that can affect human health. Scientists at HKU are attempting to steer research towards that broader direction.
The SRT on Public Health started out in 2005 focusing on an important issue in the community: adolescent health. In particular, it studied obesity and activity levels and their impacts on health. A significant number of findings resulted from that work, and so did the realisation that this was more than a medical issue. In the third phase of this SRT, the project convenors are aiming to widen the breadth of their remit.
They are taking the widest possible definition of public health, to include the totality of factors that affect human health. The Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry are continuing their membership of the SRT and they will seek participation from scholars in other disciplines in the University to create synergies with the health sciences. It is hoped the linkages will stretch from biological studies, such as public health virology, to issues relevant to the built environment, food supply and safety, air quality, transport, housing and even economic policy. The SRT will also encourage the use of different methodologies, such as epidemiology studies, health economics and computer modelling.
An example of the issues the researchers hope to look at is the contribution of lifestyle, diet and other nonmedical factors to problems of disordered metabolism and age-related degeneration. More research in this area could help to spur government and individuals to see the connections and take action.
Within three years the SRT aims to develop at least two cross-theme linkages and have active research collaboration developing in other areas. By consolidating different approaches, it is hoped that a body of research can be produced that can influence and inform policies affecting the community's well-being.
Related major work at the University includes an Area of Excellence on 'Control of Pandemic and Inter-Pandemic Influenza', a Theme-based Research Scheme project on 'Viral, Host and Environmental Determinants of Influenza Virus Transmission and Pathogenesis' and a Partner State Key Laboratory for Emerging Infectious Diseases.
This SRT is taking a broader perspective of disrupted human ecologies and environments as the key threats to public health.
Professor R. Fielding, Convenor