- By Dr Kelly Mackenzie, Specialty Registrar in Public Health
After successfully being awarded one of the new 12-month Academic Public Health Fellowships, I was able to start at my chosen base, the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), University of Sheffield, in April 2015. The announcement of these Fellowships was perfectly timed for me – I had completed my specialty training exams and had been considering applying for a PhD, but lacked research experience and some relevant outputs, such as recent publications, which this Fellowship could support me to address.
The main aim of my Fellowship was to submit a successful PhD application. My objectives for the year were therefore to:
- Develop my research skills by participating in ongoing research at ScHARR
- Obtain first author publications
- Present at national/international conferences
- Explore my own interests/networking in the research area of sedentary behaviour in the workplace.Now that I am coming towards the end of my 12-month Fellowship, it seems a good time to reflect on my progress.Getting involved in ongoing research in ScHARR has allowed me to further develop my research skills, particularly evidence synthesis, data collection and writing research grants. This ongoing research includes:
- A cross-sectional study examining healthcare workers’ sedentary behaviour patterns – My role involved conducting data collection via questionnaires, data analysis and dissemination of findings.
- Health economics evaluation of the National Diabetes Prevention Programme – My role was facilitating focus group work with a group of commissioners to highlight current incentive and disincentive issues relating to shifting the system towards diabetes prevention.
- A qualitative study examining what factors facilitate the use of a ‘flipped classroom’ model in preparation for postgraduate membership examinations in Public Health – My role is a co-principal investigator involved in project conception, data collection via focus groups, data analysis and dissemination of findings.
My particular area of interest is related to interventions to reduce prolonged sitting in the workplace. We know that sitting for long periods is linked to higher risks of health problems e.g. heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, neck/back problems, and early death. Sitting in the workplace can be a particular issue due to the increasing number of desk-based jobs where staff can sit for an average of six hours a day.
Replacing some sitting time with light activities, such as standing and walking, could be an important way to improve the public’s health. As part of my Masters in Public Health (MPH) dissertation project (conducted 6 months before commencing this Fellowship), I therefore carried out a small pilot to develop, test and review the practicality of a package of changes in the workplace aimed at reducing time spent sitting amongst staff at ScHARR.
The package of changes, developed with a small group of ScHARR staff, focussed on low-cost, pragmatic elements to encourage greater uptake amongst employers, for whom the cost of these relatively expensive interventions may be a significant barrier to implementation, and included:
- Posters/prompts to remind staff to sit less
- Emails with helpful tips of ways to sit less e.g. walking/standing meetings, regular breaks away from the desk
- Support from management in the form of emails and “leading by example”
Changes to the way the workspace was used e.g. encouraging the use of toilets/printers/coffee rooms on different floors.
The findings from this study provide encouragement for the use of a low-cost package of changes to reduce workplace sitting, but are limited to health-related academic settings. During this Fellowship, I have had the opportunity to write-up this study and in December 2015 it was accepted for publication in BMC Public Health. I intend to develop this work as part of a PhD, using a range of different organisations to improve the generalisability of the findings.
In addition, I have had four abstracts accepted as poster presentations at two national conferences: Public Health England Conference, UK Public Health Science Conference (abstract also published as conference proceedings in The Lancet). At the UK Public Health Science Conference I won the Early Career Researcher Prize for the poster “Development, implementation and assessment of a pilot workplace intervention to reduce sitting among staff in a UK university department”.
I have spent a great deal of my time during this Fellowship meeting with national and international experts in the field of sedentary behaviour research to develop important networks, which could be used during a PhD project.
Consequently, I have been involved in the development of a local Sedentary Behaviour Research Network, ensuring that sedentary behaviour research is carried out in an efficient way across the city and will promote shared learning. I have also made links with the local Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC), which will be able to provide me with ongoing support during a PhD project.
Thus far during this Fellowship I have achieved much of what I originally set out to achieve. As a result, I was able to submit an NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship application in January 2016 and now await the outcome. If successful, I intend to build on the work conducted during my MPH dissertation and use the networks and research skills that I have developed during this current Fellowship to assist me in my future research career.