New UKRI-China projects tackle the challenges of ageing societies

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) are pleased to announce five new collaborative research projects.

The projects will enrich our understanding of the complex social, economic and medical challenges presented by ageing societies around the world, and address these challenges through interdisciplinary collaborations.

According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, by 2042 there will be 367 pensioners per 1,000 people of working age in the UK, 67 more than in 2016. Data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics show that 11.4% of China’s 1.3 billion population was aged over 65 in 2017. This means that every 100 working-age adults in that year were supporting almost 16 over-65s, a number set to rise to more than 30 by 2050.

These seismic demographic shifts will need to be accommodated across the whole of society, from pension provision and healthcare to education and the transportation system.

Helping people to live fulfilling, healthy and comfortable lives for longer is a primary goal of policymakers in both countries. But adapting societies to better accommodate the needs of their older members requires a robust base of evidence from leading experts in this broad and complex field.

These projects, all of which involve close collaboration between UK and Chinese researchers, cover a broad range of challenges but seek to make novel interdisciplinary contributions to the evidence base on healthy ageing, providing evidence for key stakeholders in policy and practice in the UK and China and enhance interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships.

UKRI provided £5 million in funding across the five projects, with Chinese partner projects receiving up to 2.5 million yuan each from NSFC, making this initiative the largest co-funded Fund for International Collaboration (FIC) activity between these two funders.

These projects form part of the Healthy Ageing Flagship Challenge Programme, a joint UK-China strategic initiative to support cutting-edge research and innovation partnerships that address global challenges for the benefit of all of humanity.

Professor Andrew Thompson, International Champion for UKRI, said:

Helping ageing populations live longer and healthier lives has become a fundamental part of research and innovation. The UK and China collaborations that aim to address the challenges of healthy ageing are a prime example of how cross-border research and international collaboration can enrich the lives of people all around the world.

Professor Xincheng Xie, Vice President of NSFC, said:

Healthy ageing has become a common challenge for all of humankind. The UK-China Healthy Ageing Flagship Challenge Programme, featuring interdisciplinary research and international collaboration, will take the research of ageing to a new level.

We hope the new perspectives generated from this international collaboration will change the way that people age.

Further information

FIC aims to enhance the UK’s excellence in research and innovation through global engagement, forging new bilateral and multilateral research and innovation programmes with global partners. The fund was announced in the Industrial Strategy White Paper in November 2017 as a ‘£110 million fund for international collaborations to enhance the UK’s excellence in research and innovation through global and strategic engagement’.

Funded projects

Lifestyle factors in dementia and cognitive impairment in England and China: the role of sleep and physical activity

UK principal investigator – Professor AP Steptoe (University College London)
China principal investigator- Professor Yaohui Zhao (Peking University)

An innovative study examining lifestyle factors and their role in the progression and management of dementia in the UK and China, two dramatically different and diverse environments, utilising large, nationally representative, multidisciplinary longitudinal population studies. Results will inform public policy and prevention strategies in the two countries and be of particular value to health care professionals, policymakers, prevention practitioners and non-governmental organisations, voluntary sector and local community groups.

Families, households and health in ageing populations: projections and implications

UK principal investigator – Professor E Grundy (University of Essex)
China principal investigator- Professor Xiaoyan Lei (Peking University)

This biosocial collaborative project focusses on the family and household situation of older people and will contribute to understanding how intergenerational relationships operate in the face of demographic change. A series of dissemination events will engage a wide section of the affected community, ensuring broad public participation in both research and the communication of impact.

UK-China health and social challenges ageing project: present and future burden of dementia, and policy responses

UK principal investigator – Professor EJ Brunner (University College London)
China principal investigator- Professor Jing Liao (Sun Yat-Sen University)

Building on a successful trial in the UK, this joint project proposes to build a dementia simulation model for the Chinese population, synthesising major observed epidemiological and demographic trends, in order to forecast disease burden for dementia, disability and cardiovascular disease, and life expectancy for the next three decades. Outputs, referencing the provision of long-term care in China will help direct the formation of relevant social care policy in the UK.

Sexual health among older adults in China and the United Kingdom: a multi-disciplinary study

UK principal investigator – Dr J Tucker (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
China principal investigator- Professor Huacchun Zou (Sun Yat-Sen University)

The common greying of the population in the UK and China demands innovative solutions to ensure that sexual health services  are inclusive, empowering, and reliable. This epidemiological study will determine preferences for sexual health services among diverse older adults, identify high-quality messages to promote uptake, and produce policy recommendations for diverse markets, creating impact on a structural and systematic level.

Transforming primary care in Scotland and China to meet the needs of an ageing population: are health inequalities being tackled?

UK principal investigator – Professor S Mercer (The University of Edinburgh)
China principal investigator- Professor Hao-Xiang Wang (Sun Yat-Sen University)

A multidisciplinary study examining how ‘clustering’ of GP practices in Scotland and comparable changes to community health provision in China have impacted the health and wellbeing of older people. Findings will support health care providers, policymakers and carers in the development, evaluation and implementation of innovations and interventions to reduce inequalities and improve care and health for all.

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