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Approved research

Urbanicity and Associations with Biology, Behaviour and Lifestyle in the UK Biobank

Principal Investigator: Professor Gunter Schumann
Approved Research ID: 26503
Approval date: July 19th 2017

Lay summary

An estimated 70% of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2050. With this rapid change to urban environments comes significant alterations to lifestyles, social behaviour, physical health (diet/nutrition), and increased rates of mental disorders. While health, lifestyle and environmental factors associated with urbanicity may relate to symptoms of mental disorders, their biological underpinnings are not well understood. The UK Biobank offers the opportunity to understand what urban environmental and lifestyle factors may relate to features of mental disorders and what biological mechanisms (brain and genes) may be mediating the relationship between urbanicity and mental health. Our proposal meets the UK biobank's stated purpose by identifying specific environmental stressors related to urban upbringing that influence distinct behaviors, and their underlying neurobiology. Targeting these stressors will enable the development of cost-effective measures to prevent manifestation of mental disorders, intervene at an early stage, and identify specific risk markers and targets for psychosocial intervention, contributing towards alleviating the mental health burden associated with urban upbringing. Additionally, assessment of environmental factors and the link to mental health will inform urban infrastructure and environmental planning to accommodate the rapid rate of urbanization. Our proposed study will explore the relationship between urban living, psychological distress, and how this is explained by biology. We will first identify individuals with urban upbringing and characterise which health, environment, and lifestyle factors are associated with symptoms and diagnosis of mental health disorders. We will then find associations between these specific mental health-related factors and genetic data to understand any interaction between genes and urban living on mental health disorders. Finally, we will look at individuals with brain imaging data to better understand the brain features that may be explaining the relationship between urbanicity and mental health. We will use the full cohort available for all assessments, as well as the cohort with completed QCd brain imaging and genetic data for available subjects, with the view to utilise the remaining data when it becomes available.