University of Cambridge

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Research Associate (fixed term) - evaluating retail impacts of planning policy to regulate takeaway food outlets for improved health in England.

CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge are offering an exciting opportunity to join a vibrant research group at a leading university, to contribute to important public health research on takeaway food outlet 'exclusion zones' around schools. We are seeking to appoint a Research Associate, with a track record of using geographical information systems (GIS), and proven expertise in natural experimental methods including difference-in-differences analysis, to work on the research project "Evaluation of planning policy to regulate takeaway food outlets for improved health in England", funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Local authorities in England are increasingly worried about the impact of takeaway food outlets on health. Through a national survey of local planning policies, we have already identified 44 local authorities who have already applied rules to deny planning permission to new takeaways in 'exclusion zones' around schools. These policies have been adopted over the last decade, but not evaluated. In this work package, we seek to understand the retail impacts of exclusion zones. Using routine data, we will evaluate post-intervention change in numbers of takeaways and takeaway planning applications, and understand unintended consequences, such as changes in numbers of unregulated outlets. We will also study areas just outside exclusion zones in case takeaways are displaced there.

This is an exciting and unique opportunity to contribute to an applied research project of direct relevance to government policy and the public's health. If effective, the current absence of evaluative evidence is a barrier to more widespread policy adoption. The project builds on our internationally-recognised work on the impact of exposure to takeaway food outlets on diet and obesity.

You will be expected to: contribute to development of a detailed study protocol; collate school location data and create exclusion zones matching local authority specifications (e.g. 400m, 800m radii etc) using a GIS; integrate and overlay historic planning application and retail outlet location data; identify similar local authorities with no intervention to serve as controls; lead on conducting difference-in-differences analyses to quantify intervention impact; write up results in the form of peer-reviewed publications as first author; and disseminate results to academic and non-academic stakeholders, including at least one conference presentation.

You will be educated to PhD level and have a proven track-record of independent quantitative analyses, including difference-in-differences analysis or similar (e.g. interrupted time series analysis). Demonstrable experience of using a GIS to manipulate and map large volumes of complex location and attribute data is also critical. You will have experience of writing up research outputs for a variety of audiences, including as peer-reviewed publications. Excellent time management, oral and written communication skills, with a track record of problem solving, managing your own workload and meeting deadlines, will be required.

Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 24 months in the first instance with a start date of early April 2021.

The role is under the supervision and management of the work package co-leads Dr Thomas Burgoine and Dr Jean Adams. Other collaborators on the project include Prof Martin White (University of Cambridge), Prof Steven Cummins (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine), and Prof Richard Smith (University of Exeter).

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The MRC Epidemiology Unit is a department within the University of Cambridge's School of Clinical Medicine, situated within the Institute of Metabolic Science on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, with its excellent public transport links to the historic city centre of Cambridge and its surrounding towns and villages. The Unit's mission is to study the genetic, developmental and environmental factors that cause obesity, diabetes and related metabolic disorders and develop strategies for their prevention. The MRC Epidemiology unit also hosts the UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), where you will be based. You will be joining a vibrant and friendly team of researchers, within a world-class research environment, and a UK Centre of Excellence in Public Health Research, focused on developing an understanding of the population-level determinants of dietary and physical activity behaviours and on evaluating interventions that impact on these behaviours.

Once an offer of employment has been accepted, the successful candidate will be required to undergo a security check.

Alongside a competitive salary, University staff are eligible for a comprehensive package of benefits and services including discounts on shopping, health care, financial services and public transport; defined benefits pension schemes; and tax-efficient bicycle, car lease and charity-giving schemes.

Please contact Dr Thomas Burgoine ( or Dr Jean Adams ( with informal enquiries.

The closing date for applications is Sunday 3rd January 2021. Interviews are to be held online on Thursday 14th January 2021.

The post is full-time but applications are welcome from those who would like to work flexibly.

Please quote reference SJ24831 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

The University actively supports equality, diversity and inclusion and encourages applications from all sections of society.

The University has a responsibility to ensure that all employees are eligible to live and work in the UK.

Further information

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