Economics of Obesity

economics-obesity-team-350pxGroup lead: Dr Emma Frew



This research group is about using economics to analyse the causes and consequences of obesity at a system level – taking into account that this is not a stand-alone health problem but one that includes multiple causes and consequences.

Our research group

Working closely with our partners that includes local government, retailers, third-sector providers, the Food Foundation, and education services this group uses economics to help inform policy for obesity.  This work is focused on the distribution of responsibility, understanding that all in society can play a role to tackle obesity and that effective downstream and upstream policy needs to fit within this remit. 

Many of the projects that fall under this theme are about estimating the costs and consequences of alternative strategies, and applying economic evaluation to include issues such as implementation costs and long-term sustainability.  Much of this work uses ‘natural experiment’ methodology.  There is also an emerging strand of work that uses economics to model upstream policy such as regulation, taxation and mandatory reformulation. 

Emma also leads the International Health Economics Association (iHEA) Special Interest Group on the Economics of Obesity that brings together health economists with an interest in obesity from diverse country contexts


Current projects

  • Using economic experimental methods to inform policy to tackle childhood obesity working with small convenience stores.
  • Analysis of large global datasets to determine trend and impact of country macro-economic indicators upon childhood obesity levels.
  • Economic evaluation of the ‘daily mile’ within primary schools using a societal perspective.
  • Use of Crowdfunder as an online platform to generate funding and engagement from the community for childhood obesity services.
  • The cost-effectiveness of a healthier catering offer for primary schools across Birmingham.
  • Cross-cultural comparison of cost effectiveness of obesity prevention in children: UK, China and Spain.
  • Use of a system model to evaluate the food offer at a City-level.
  • Examination of the impact of air quality upon childhood obesity levels at the LSOA level.  

Selected publications

Adab P, Pallan M, Lancashire E, Hemming K, Frew E, Barrett T, Bhopal R, Cade J, Canaway A, Clarke J, Daley A, Deeks J, Duda J, Ekelund U, Gill P, Griffin T, McGee E, Hurley K, Martin J, Parry J, Passmore S, Cheng K. A cluster-randomised controlled trial to assess the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a childhood obesity prevention programme delivered through school targeting 6-7 year old children: the WAVES study: a cluster-randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal, 2018;360:k211. doi:

Breheny K, Adab P, Passmore S, Martin J, Lancashire E, Hemming K, Frew E.  A cluster randomised controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the daily mile on childhood obesity and wellbeing; the Birmingham daily mile protocol. BMC Public Health, 2018, 18: 126 DOI 10.1186/s12889-017-5019-8

Eminson K, Canaway A, Lancashire E, Adab P, Pallan M, Frew E. How does age affect the relationship between weight and health utility during the middle years of childhood? Quality of Life Research, 2018,

Frew E.  Aligning health economics methods to fit with the changing world of public health. Applied Health Economics and Health Policy. Editorial. 2017 March 4. Doi: 10.1007/s40258-017-0319-9.

Frew E and Hollingsworth B.  How financial incentives could tackle Britain’s childhood obesity problem.  The Conversation. March 2, 2017.

Li Bai, Liu WJ, Cheng KK, Pallan MJ, Hemming K, Frew E, Lin R, Liu W, Adab P. Development of the theory-based Chinese primary school children physical activity and dietary behaviour changes intervention (CHIRPY DRAGON): development of a cluster randomised controlled trial. The Lancet 388: S51, October 2016.

Frew E. Economic evaluation of childhood obesity: reflection and suggestions.  Pharmacoeconomics. 2016; 34: 733-740.


  • Ms Katie Breheny
  • Ms Magda Aguiar
  • Mr Andrew Smith
  • Ms Mandana Zanganeh
  • Ms Warda Tahir