PHRC Phase 2 (2011-2019) projects – Projects related to multiple risk behaviours

Obesity and Alcohol use: Is there a role for dually focused intervention in young adults (18-25) to tackle unhealthy eating and heavy drinking and effectively reduce future health inequalities?

Lead investigator

Professor Ashley Adamson, Human Nutrition Research Centre, Newcastle University


Levels of obesity have risen steadily over the past two decades. 33% of regular drinkers in the UK are at risk of related health and other problems.

Alcohol use peaks in early adulthood and can exacerbate weight gain. Liver disease is the third most common cause of premature death in the UK and it is increasingly seen in 15-44 year olds. Individuals from lower socio-economic status groups are disproportionately affected by liver-disease deaths. A high body mass index and heavy drinking are independently associated with liver disease but, in combination, they produce a supra-additive risk of damage. Thus we need to develop interventions focused on both behaviours, especially as they can become closely inter-linked in people’s day-to-day lives. Young males and females (aged 16-24y) who drink alcohol obtain 6.9% and 8.3% of their total energy intake from alcohol respectively. However, the distributions are positively skewed; energy intake in the upper 2.5 percentile is 26.7% for males and 19.1% for females. Alcohol calories, beverage type and drinking pattern have been associated with excess body weight and weight gain amongst young adults. In addition, some report a conflict between wishing to stay slim and wishing to drink alcohol to facilitate social interaction. Thus we need to understand more precisely the links between unhealthy eating and heavy drinking in early adulthood and establish if dually focused interventions can help to reduce excess weight and heavy drinking and so their concomitant health harms.

Aims and objectives

To explore the links between unhealthy eating behaviour and risky alcohol use in the social, emotional and cultural lives of young adults (aged 18-25), including perceptions of risks, benefits, costs and consequences of these behaviours in early adulthood, and to work with young adults to co-design a dually focused intervention to help reduce health risk and social inequalities due to excess weight gain and alcohol consumption.


A mixed methods programme of work is proposed including four work packages:

  • WP1 A systematic review of interventions designed to reduce health risks due to unhealthy eating behaviour and risky or excessive drinking, accompanied by relevant evidence synthesis techniques (quantitative meta-analysis if indicated).
  • WP2 Secondary quantitative data analysis of national datasets.
  • WP3 In-depth qualitative interview work plus thematic analysis of narrative data.
  • WP4 Co-design/co-production workshops using participatory approaches to develop, refine and pilot (pre-test) a complex intervention focused on nutrition (food choice/energy intake) and alcohol-related risk or harm in young adults.


  • Professor Eileen Kaner, Newcastle University
  • Martine Stead, University of Stirling
  • Professor Christine Power, University College London
  • Dr Stephanie Scott, Newcastle University
  • Dr Niamh Fitzgerald, University of Stirling
  • Dr Wendy Wrieden, Newcastle University

01/04/2016 - 31/3/2018 (24 months)