Through a research focus on how physical, policy and social environments influence diet and physical activity, the Global Diet and Activity Research Network (GDAR) is working to prevent non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancers, in low and middle income countries.

The GDAR Network is a collaboration of researchers from ten organisations in seven countries on three continents. It is funded by the NIHR Global Health Research initiative

Global efforts to tackle Non-Communicable Diseases

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a major and growing cause of death and disability. Two of the most important causes of this trend are unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity, both of which are associated with rapid economic development and urbanisation. In fact, although NCDs are often thought of as diseases of affluence, they are more common in low and middle income countries (LMICs) than in high income countries.

In LMICs most people with NCDs are of working age. Death or disability caused by an NCD can leave a family destitute, particularly those in the poorer sections of society who are increasingly exposed to the risks causing NCDs and who often find it difficult to afford and access healthcare. NCDs are, therefore, limiting the ability of LMICs to develop socially and economically.

In response to this, the United Nations developed Sustainable Development Goals that commit countries to reducing mortality from NCDs in adults aged 30 to 70 years by one third by 2030.

As well as urbanisation, climate change and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are creating additional environmental hazards that may have implications for diet and physical activity.

Our research

The work of GDAR is contributing towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals by:

  • generating evidence for sustainable NCD prevention related to food and physical activity, in the broader context of urban development, health and climate emergencies, and environmentally-vulnerable settings
  • bridging research-policy gaps and nurturing collaboration across sectors to support healthy cities
  • building the next generation of research leaders skilled in mixed-methods approaches to addressing local and global upstream determinants of NCDs

We are building on the first phase of our research, which explored how policy, community and commercial systems shape diet and PA environments and behaviours in cities in low and middle income countries. Our latest phase of research has a particular focus on how climate change and rapid urbanisation interact with the built and food environment.

Our research principles

We recognise the value of research that reaches across traditional academic boundaries. We use diverse methods from policy analysis, health impact modelling and natural experimental methods to spatial epidemiology techniques, historical methods, evidence synthesis and citizen science.

While focused on diet and activity environments, we also recognise these are influenced by broader psychosocial and economic factors that interact to determine health.

We co-produce our research with a range of diverse academic and non-academic collaborators. Our work involves finding solutions that are affordable and created in partnership with local communities.

Turning the tide

In 2020 GDAR teamed up with NCD Alliance and BBC StoryWorks as part of Turning the Tidea series of short films about the bold actions being carried out by communities and organisations to take on NCDs. The stories are about the small and significant changes being made for better, healthier lives.

The GDAR film shines the spotlight on a citizen science study we conducted in partnership with young people and communities in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The study seeks to understand more about how neighbourhoods and daily routines affect health.