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New hub to raise questions on health issues

01 March 2012 @TeessideUni


Two of Teesside University’s top research staff are key players in the launch of a new regional group which will ask some deliberately challenging and difficult questions of current health policies and practices.

Are middle-aged drinkers really in just as much danger as young binge drinkers from their patterns of alcohol use? Is it right to demonise the overweight and obese and imply that they are somehow in moral deficit?

These are the sorts of questions Professor Janet Shucksmith, Director of the Health and Social Care Institute, at Teesside University, hopes the new group will start to address in the new North East Medical Sociology Group being launched on Thursday 8 March.

Dr Paul Crawshaw, Director of the Social Futures Institute at Teesside has also been heavily involved in establishing the new group. Within the North East there is considerable strength in research related to health, well-being, and the provision of health services but Dr Crawshaw believes sociology has a central part to play in such work – particularly in raising critical questions about the delivery of health services, health promotion and public health approaches.

Dr Crawshaw says: 'We have to ask the awkward questions around the assumptions that drive health care and public health campaigns. We need to look at why government agencies continually compartmentalise ‘health behaviours’ and emphasise individual failings and ignore the complicated ways in which real people navigate health alongside all their other concerns, often in difficult social circumstances.'

Professor Shucksmith agrees: 'We even have to ask if all this well-intentioned health advice is making problems worse. For example, is the emphasis on identifying obesity among children making young people overly body conscious and leading to eating disorders and poor mental well-being?

'This new hub will encourage research into these aspects of how people live and experience health and ill health, and will hopefully spark debate about the big public health issues and problems with the ways services are delivered.'

The group is convened by Professor Shucksmith and Dr Sally Brown, research fellow at Durham University, but will gather together sociologists from across the five North East higher education institutions – Teesside, Durham, Newcastle, Sunderland and Northumbria. It is backed and supported by the British Sociological Association (BSA).

The keynote speaker at the launch event is to be Professor Rose Barbour from the Open University who will explore results from a number of weight management projects she has researched.

The North East is host to a UKCRC (UK Clinical Research Collaboration) funded public health centre of excellence – FUSE - which already acts as an influential hub for work on public health issues – and the idea for the group has grown out of that work. Teesside already has a long history of critical sociological thinking, with Dr Crawshaw and colleagues having edited the journal Critical Public Health for a number of years.

'We hope the group will become a focal point for researchers and postgraduate research students who incorporate sociological approaches into their work. We believe sociology has a central role to play in studying experiences of health, the delivery of health services and the way the health workforce is trained and developed,' explains Professor Shucksmith.

The launch will take place on Thursday 8 March, 12.30pm-5.00pm at Trevelyan College, Durham University.

In the News

Health in spotlight
Evening Gazette, 07/03/2012, p.7
Teesside University researchers Professor Janet Shucksmith and Dr Paul Cranshaw are launching a new regional group asking challenging questions of current health policies. Dr Cranshaw said: 'We have t