Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Tackling obesity

Apply for funding to develop effective strategies to tackle overweight and obesity.

‘Tackling obesity’ is open to applications submitted to the Population and Systems Medicine Board.

You should apply through the existing funding opportunity most relevant to your science area and career stage.

There is no limit to the funding you can apply for, but it should be appropriate to the research project. We will usually fund up to 80% of your project’s full economic cost.

This is an ongoing funding priority for the Population and Systems Medicine Board. Application rounds close every January, May and September.

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the following:

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service from 22 May 2023. For full details, see eligibility as an individual.

Specific details regarding eligibility can be found in the UKRI funding finder guidance for each relevant Population and Systems Medicine Board funding opportunity:

  • research project
  • programme
  • partnership
  • new investigator research grant

What we're looking for

The challenge

Both developed and emerging economies are facing rising levels of obesity. Obesity can contribute to mental health problems and also lead to reduced life expectancy. It is a risk factor for a range of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, arthritis, liver and respiratory disease.

A complex interaction of societal, environmental, behavioural and biological factors has made us vulnerable to weight gain. Obesity and related conditions cost the NHS in the region of £6 billion, and that is without including the significant costs of social care.

Research remit

We are seeking multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary applications to tackle overweight and obesity. The research should support evidence-based approaches to improve health in real-life settings.

In particular, we wish to better understand what makes an effective intervention. We aim to do this by encouraging greater integration and synergy across existing pockets of expertise in the biological, behavioural, psychological, environmental and social sciences.

We invite researchers from a range of backgrounds to join forces to apply to this board priority. Applications should be innovative, cross-disciplinary and collaborative, and include partnerships between basic, clinical and social scientists, and with other stakeholders.

Applications should provide robust evidence to improve public health in real-life settings by:

  • providing a holistic understanding of the important factors influencing obesity


  • developing effective strategies (individual, societal, or both) to tackle overweight and obesity

Applications should help identify specific mechanisms for obesity development and progression at key transition points across the life course or in vulnerable groups, or both. Purely observational research and descriptive association studies are not within scope for this board priority.

As examples, applications might include one or more of the following:

  • interventions at individual and population levels, and at key stages in the lifecourse, which prevent or reverse obesity and its adverse health outcomes and address health inequalities
  • investigation of the dynamic associations between biology, behaviour, diet, environmental and social science to understand the key features of effective prevention or treatment interventions for obesity
  • investigation of basic mechanisms, alongside other appropriate approaches such as experimental medicine and natural experiments, to help identify cause and effect
  • identification of at-risk groups, novel targets, mechanisms and markers which could transform treatments for obesity
  • focus on areas where impact will be greatest particularly weight gain in children and young adults and effective interventions to achieve weight loss and maintain a healthy weight. This might include diet and physical activity or wider determinants, or both
  • provide attractive training opportunities beyond traditional research fields by developing individuals with the necessary expertise across disciplines to drive forward interdisciplinary obesity research

Applications should aim to:

  • provide new insights on obesity by combining and building on:
    • existing resources (for example, cohorts, epidemiological studies, clinical trials, intervention studies, NHS and other data)
    • strengths in data linkage expertise
  • achieve greater understanding of the dynamic systems which lead to obesity by:
    • enhancing and merging data resources from different domains
    • engaging with a range of relevant stakeholders (for example, local authorities; councils; the public; a broad set of relevant industries such as pharma, food and retail industries, new technologies, artificial intelligence and social media)

Multidisciplinary teams and partnerships

Applications should include:

  • partnership with researchers in relevant areas beyond obesity and nutrition
  • partnerships between established investigators working in relevant areas, but who are new to the field

MRC will usually fund costs toward international research partners if they provide expertise not available in the UK.

This priority area will thereby continue to build this field by developing:

  • increased capacity in obesity research
  • multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teams to tackle the significant research challenges in this area

Research applications should include appropriate public and patient involvement and engagement, where appropriate. Please see public engagement for more information.

How to apply

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Funding Service

We are now running MRC funding opportunities on the new UKRI Funding Service. You cannot apply using the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

‘Tackling obesity’ is open to project, programme, partnership and new investigator research grant applications submitted to the Population and Systems Medicine Board.

To apply for a full application

Select ‘Start application’ near the beginning of the relevant Population and Systems Medicine Board funding finder opportunity page.

Deadlines and guidance on application content can be found on the relevant Population and Systems Medicine Board funding finder opportunity page.

Full applications should reference ‘Tackling Obesity’ in the ‘Vision’ section.

When outlining the skill sets of the investigator group, you should highlight:

  • which investigators are new to this field
  • the role of any early career researchers
  • the training and skills development provided by the application (all categories of staff)
  • how your experience and expertise will add to the UK obesity research base

How we will assess your application

All eligible full applications received for this board priority will be assessed by the Population and Systems Medicine Board through MRC’s standard assessment procedure.

Please see the relevant Population and Systems Medicine Board funding finder opportunity pages.

The funding decision making process is as follows:

At triage or shortlisting:

  • in the initial evaluation of an application, only the intrinsic research quality of the submission, as determined using MRC’s assessment criteria, will be considered

At funding meetings:

  • all applications under review are ranked by their median score
  • given the available budget, a cumulative commitment line is drawn, starting with the highest median score, to determine which grants can be funded
  • where the available budget can fund some, but not all of the applications which have the same median score, the board members determine which applications should be supported, taking into account quality, likely impact and fit to MRC’s strategic priorities, board priorities, and highlight notices

Contact details

Ask about this priority area

Dr Karen Finney, MRC Programme Manager for Obesity and Nutrition


Please include ‘Tackling Obesity’ in the email subject line. See also ‘Additional information’.

Please also see the relevant Population and Systems Medicine Board funding finder opportunity pages.

Additional info

If you wish to apply under this Population and Systems Medicine Board priority area you should first email

It would be helpful to provide a short two-page summary of the proposed work covering the following:

  • background to the problem including the unmet health need
  • the importance of the research question. The research gap being filled that hasn’t been met by previous studies
  • the aims and objectives of the proposed research
  • the methods to be used and the outcomes that will be measured
  • the main research outputs and how these will help address the unmet need that you have identified
  • likely duration and estimate of cost of the application (80% full economic cost level)
  • brief description of the team and the key skills and experience that each team member will bring to your project

Eligible applications may include research content relevant to the interests of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). But the majority (greater than 50%) of the work must fall within MRC’s remit. Applications which are more suitable to be led by either BBSRC or ESRC will be referred to the relevant research council.

Please note: it is still possible to apply to MRC’s funding schemes for nutrition and obesity research which is eligible for MRC funding but not covered by this particular board priority area.

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