Faith-based groups & impact on health & health inequalities

National Institute for Health and Care Research HTA HSDRThe Public Health Research Programme (PHR) is accepting Stage 1 applications to their commissioned workstream for this topic.

In order to apply you will need to carefully review the:

This call is being supported by the Public Health Research Applications and Design Advice (PHRADA) team, which is provided by the NIHR Research Support Service (RSS) for applicants from England (this was previously supported by the Research Design Service). If you have a specific enquiry about this commissioned call please use this form to contact PHRADA.

Applicants, from England, who have not been funded by the PHR Programme before are required to provide proof that contact has been made with the PHRADA service. You can also seek support and guidance from the NIHR RSS Public Health Specialist Centre.


Any changes to these dates will be emailed to all Lead Applicants with an application in progress.

  • Stage 1 deadline: 1pm on 23 April 2024
  • Notification of out of remit/non-competitive decision if unsuccessful: Early May 2024
  • Notification of Stage 1 shortlisting decision: Early July 2024
  • Stage 2 writing window: Early July to end August 2024
  • Notification of Stage 2 funding decision: mid-end November 2024
  • Earliest start date for funded studies: 1 February/1 March 2025

Please note, if a very high response is received, some applications may not be taken forward for further assessment if they are deemed to be non-competitive and/or it may be necessary to defer some applications until a later date. ‘Non-Competitive’ means that an application is not of a sufficiently high standard to be taken forward for further assessment in comparison with other applications received and funded by the PHR Programme because it has little or no realistic prospect of funding. This may be because of scientific quality, cost, scale/duration, or the makeup of the project team.

All primary research projects are expected to establish a programme appointed Study/Trial Steering Committee and it is important that you read the TSC/SSC Guidance before completing your application. Costs incurred by this committee should be included in the budget as appropriate.

Research Question: How can engagement with faith-based groups impact health and health inequalities?

British society is made up of people from a range of faiths; mainly Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish or Buddhist. Faith institutions are community hubs which have long been involved in advocacy for social change, including addressing health inequalities. Faith-based groups and faith leaders are an integral part of many communities and are known to be powerful agents for both positive and negative health behaviour change. Increasingly, faith-based groups are being called on to serve as key players in health promotion and disease prevention efforts. Therefore, strategic engagement of faith-based groups has the potential to be central in the public health agenda. Although partnerships with the health sector can be complex and contentious, faith and medical organisations have intersected successfully to deliver health-related programmes for a wide range of health-related outcomes.

Some faith-based group members are from populations facing higher risks from health inequalities or have difficulties in accessing healthcare. Therefore, faith group leaders may be well placed to take an active role in helping to tackle health problems in the communities they serve. Faith leaders can often reach those who are marginalised, such as migrants; those who cannot readily access health information though conventional routes, because of language barriers; and older people. Faith leaders have a pivotal role as ‘gatekeepers’ – they can disseminate health information, and allow health professionals to come into places of worship to deliver health information and activities. However, faith groups and their leaders may also have the potential to act as sources of disinformation and barriers to health improvement activities.

The assets of faith communities include physical and human resources, as well as communication and social networks. Particularly in rural areas, the range of locations means more people can be reached. Likewise, faith communities are recognised to have well-established local and national communication networks, such as newsletters and committee networks at multiple levels, central display points, bulletin boards and word-of-mouth.

Studies from the UK and US have found faith based-group interventions effective in improving healthy eating and physical activity behaviour, and religious settings were found to have a relatively high reach. However, less is known about promoting mental health in faith communities and the research on life-style behaviour changes has mostly been of low quality – meaning there is a need for more robust evidence. Moreover, little is known of any potential negative effects or unintended harms that faith-based group interventions may have.

Health inequalities

The PHR Programme is predominantly interested in interventions operating at a population level rather than at an individual level, and that address health inequalities and the wider determinants of health. Applicants are asked to specify which faith-based group(s) their work will focus on and justify this decision. It should be noted this call is not aimed at establishing the effects of faith or belonging to a faith group itself. This call is aimed at understanding health interventions which engage with faith-based group assets. The PHR Programme recognises that interventions are likely to impact different (sub)populations in different ways, and encourages researchers to explore such inequalities of impact in their study design.

Suggested areas of research

The PHR Programme recognises that this call is broad in its nature, but encourages researchers to be targeted in their chosen research area. Examples include:

  • Evaluation of faith-based group interventions aimed at improving people’s social, mental and/or physical wellbeing. This may include exploration of how these may differ from other community-based interventions.
  • Exploration of ‘conventional’ interventions delivered in faith-based group settings, particularly in rural settings.
  • Exploration of using faith-based group assets for health promotion activities, and how may these differ between population (for example gender, sexuality and age).
  • Exploration of how faith-based group health interventions are being, or can be linked, to other similar interventions with other community anchors.
  • Evaluation of health communication programmes which engage with faith-based groups.
  • Exploration of how to engage with faith-based groups where there is evidence of health (and health protection messaging) being misinterpreted or inaccurately conveyed.

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