Professor Corinna Hawkes is one of the lead researchers in the £5m research unit.

Published (Updated )

A food policy expert from City, University of London has joined a new government-backed research team that will investigative the causes behind childhood obesity in the UK.

Professor Corinna Hawkes is one of the lead researchers in the £5 million Obesity Research Policy Unit (OPRU), which is funded by the Department of Health.

The academic, who is Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City, will be responsible for the qualitative research done by the unit and will lead its work on food policy.

She said: “This new research unit will boost the ability of our country to put into place well-designed policies that actually work to reduce inequalities in obesity.

“Far higher proportions of children in deprived areas are overweight or obese, compared with children from more affluent areas, and this has got to change. The Centre for Food Policy is delighted to be a leading collaborator in this effort.”

OPRU is being run by three collaborating institutions: the Centre for Food Policy at City; the Institute for Fiscal Studies and University College London (UCL), where the unit is based.

The interdisciplinary unit has been set up to develop a deeper understanding on the causes of childhood obesity, including marketing to children and families, social inequalities, and the early years of childhood.

It was launched by the Department of Health as it announced the next stage in the Public Health England childhood obesity plan, which is focusing on reducing excess calories in food products.

The body will consider the evidence on children’s calorie consumption, including findings from Professor Hawkes’ work and the research by OPRU.

Philip Dunne, Minister of State for Health, said: “With a third of children leaving primary school obese, we must take a comprehensive approach and now focus on excess calories.

“This can only be done through strong guidance, grounded in evidence – that’s why we have funded a new £5 million dedicated Obesity Research Policy Unit to understand the deeper causes of obesity.”

Public Health England will publish the evidence it gathers in early 2018.