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Lead supervisor: Prof susan jebb, Nuffield department of primary care health sciences 

Co-supervisor: Dr Kerstin Frie, Nuffield Department of Primary Health Care Sciences

Commercial partner: Second Nature, London


We invite applications for a four-year, fully-funded MRC iCASE Studentship starting October 2021. The DPhil studentship will be hosted by the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences (NDPCHS) of the University of Oxford, in partnership with Second Nature, a digital weight management service provider commissioned by NHS England. The student will join the vibrant and friendly Health Behaviours team at NDPCHS, led by Prof Susan Jebb and Prof Paul Aveyard.


What is the project about?

Over a quarter of adults in the UK are living with obesity, which significantly increases their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancers. It also underpins substantial multimorbidity. Supporting people to lose weight is therefore an important measure for the prevention of disease. Moreover, weight loss can reverse type 2 diabetes and improve symptoms of other obesity-related diseases, making it an effective treatment strategy as well. The recent government obesity plan recognises the need to develop support for weight loss at scale in a cost-effective way. Digital interventions are promising but their evidence base is limited. There are also particular challenges in encouraging adherence to digital programmes and concerns about long-term sustainability of weight loss.

Second Nature is a digitally-delivered behavioural intervention, designed to support people to increase their physical activity and create healthy eating habits, to achieve sustainable weight loss in a real-world environment. The programme gives participants access to evidence-based educational articles, a registered dietitian or nutritionist, tracking technology, and group support via a smartphone application. It is one of the weight management service providers commissioned by NHS England and local commissioning groups.

The DPhil project will combine behavioural science expertise in Oxford and commercial insights from Second Nature. The project will focus on developing and testing new intervention components, aiming to foster sustained participant engagement and long-term maintenance of weight loss. The DPhil student will:

  1. Conduct quantitative analyses of existing data owned by Second Nature to identify predictors of user engagement/disengagement
  2. Qualitatively investigate user experiences through interviews with selected users
  3. Develop and test new intervention components in a real-world setting


Who are we looking for?

We are looking for applicants with a strong academic record and, ideally, a background in behavioural sciences, psychology or nutrition. The project would best suit an individual who has an interest in mixed methods approaches and someone who has an aptitude for analysing large scale data. The studentship will provide outstanding opportunities to develop cutting-edge quantitative and qualitative research skills, as well as gain valuable insights into the management and operation of a dynamic and successful start-up. Thanks to our partnership with Second Nature, this studentship offers the unique chance to develop weight loss approaches which can be immediately incorporated into NHS care, thus creating impact on a national scale. We are looking for applicants who will bring a high level of energy and commitment to developing their knowledge and skills in health behaviour change research and who are excited by the opportunity to work in a very applied context to solve one of the major public health problems of our time.


Next steps

If you are interested in applying or have further questions about the project, we encourage you to contact the co-supervisor Kerstin Frie via email (, enclosing your CV. We look forward to discussing this opportunity in further detail with promising candidates.

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