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Three PhD Scholarships: Reducing Alcohol-related Harms through Physical Activity

University of Hull

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Hull
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: Includes tuition fees and maintenance
Hours: Full Time, Part Time
Placed On: 12th March 2019
Closes: 25th April 2019

To celebrate the University's research successes, the University of Hull is offering a full-time/part-time UK/EU/International PhD Scholarship for candidates applying for each of the following projects.

Scholarships will start on 16th September 2019

Interested applicants should contact Professor Thomas Phillips (PhD Cluster Lead) ( for additional details.

Summary of Cluster

The aim of this interdisciplinary PhD cluster is to develop an understanding of the relationship between excessive alcohol consumption and physical activity in reducing harms.

In England, 10 million people drink at levels that increase their risk of harms, with 600,000 in need of treatment for alcohol use disorders. Although overall alcohol consumption has declined in recent years, many indicators of alcohol-related harms have increased. With excessive alcohol consumption causally linked to over 200 health conditions there are now over 1 million alcohol-related hospital admissions and an increasing trend in alcohol-specific deaths. The harms and consequences of excessive drinking disproportionately affect socio-economically deprived communities, which suffer greater alcohol-related mortality and morbidity. Communities in the local area specifically face greater prevalence of alcohol disorders, and increasing alcohol-related admissions, alcoholic liver disease, alcohol-related cardiovascular disease and related mortality. Interventions designed to reduce alcohol-related harm have largely focussed on brief interventions and psychosocial treatments; however, the impact of brief interventions is limited, and four out of five people in need fail to access treatment. There is, therefore, a need to develop interventions with greater efficacy, uptake and long-term benefits. Empirically, physical activity has significant health benefits and has been shown to improve health outcomes in numerous conditions. However, there is limited understanding of the impact of physical activity on individuals who drink alcohol excessively who are already at risk of harms to their health.

These scholarships provide an opportunity to consider the epidemiological, public health and clinical impact of physical activity on alcohol-related harms. Successful candidates will join an interdisciplinary research team based in Faculty of Health Sciences ( where we have a vibrant postgraduate community supported by Methods Hub and Trials Unit within the Institute for Clinical and Applied Health Research.

PhD Project 1: Development of a lifestyle physical activity intervention for women who misuse alcohol

Project Team: Professor Lesley Smith, Dr Maureen Twiddy, Dr Grant Abt

There is empirical and theoretical support for a role for physical activity in recovery and remission from alcohol misuse through enhancing self-efficacy; facilitation of development of non-drinking social support networks; and decreasing stress reactivity and improving coping skills. Existing trials of physical activity interventions in this group have serious methodological limitations due to selection and measurement bias, and small sample sizes and have not been developed using health behaviour theories. This project will identify the barriers and facilitators of physical activity in women who misuse alcohol and then co-develop a community-based intervention using COM-B and the behaviour change wheel. An innovative aspect of this project involves the use of wearable devices and apps to both measure physical activity and other physiological parameters, and provide intervention effects through feedback. The student will gain experience of mixed methods research involving quantitative and qualitative approaches drawing on psychology, epidemiology, biostatistics, sport, and exercise science disciplines.

PhD Project 2: Elucidating the relationships between physical activity, physical and psychological health status (including mood, stress) and alcohol misuse in women

Project Team: Professor Lesley Smith, Professor Thomas Phillips, Professor Colin Martin

Design: Potential datasets to explore this in include, BIOBANK, Southampton Women’s Study, Million Women Study, Health Survey for England, Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. See Damian and Mendelson 2017 who report on this association in Black Americans. This would provide useful background data on the extent of the problem and also providing a rationale to support developing a lifestyle/physical activity intervention as an approach, and identify the sub-group of women that such an intervention may be the best to target i.e. women who are harmful but not dependent drinkers or women in recovery from treatment for dependence; co-morbid conditions such as obesity or depression and/or anxiety.

PhD Project 3: Exploring the role of physical activity in the treatment of alcohol disorders

Project Team: Professor Thomas Phillips, Dr Judith Cohen, Professor Colin Martin, Dr Grant Abt

Alcohol disorders (e.g. alcohol liver disease, alcohol dependence) are commonly related to sedentary behaviours and comorbid conditions. However, treatment services in England do not routinely advise or direct service users about physical activity or monitor this as part of their treatment. National guidance (NICE, 2011) identifies the positive impact of pharmacological and psychological interventions yet there is limited evidence available on the role of physical activity in supporting treatment and recovery. Service users undergoing treatment for alcohol dependence commonly report a protracted abstinence syndrome characterised by poor sleep, diet, depression and anxiety symptoms; factors that have positively responded to physical activity. Similarly, the benefits of participation in physical activity extend to facets related to improved recovery, such as; enhanced self-efficacy, the development of positive routines, social networks and overall greater recovery capital. Previous studies possess significant limitations due to small sample sizes, non-generalisable populations and lack of objective measurement of physical activity. This programme of research will investigate the feasibility of undertaking a fully powered, multi-centre RCT on the impact of physical activity as an adjunctive intervention to treatment for alcohol disorders.

Specifically, the study will examine the following: Exploration of the patient groups amenable to physical activity; the types of physical activity interventions that could be suitable; the acceptability, feasibility and measurement of physical activity within the alcohol recovery treatment setting, including the use of technical devices (i.e. accelerometers). The student will gain experience of mixed methods research involving quantitative and qualitative approaches, including the design and conduct of pilot/feasibility trials.

Applicants for all projects should have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification in health, social science or a related discipline, together with relevant research experience. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience. 

To apply for these Scholarships please click on the Apply button above.

Full-time UK/EU and International PhD Scholarships will include tuition fees and maintenance (£15,009 in 2019/20) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

Part-time UK/EU and International PhD Scholarships will include tuition fees and maintenance (£9,005 in 2019/20) for five years, depending on satisfactory progress

PhD students at the University of Hull follow modules for research and transferable skills development and gain a Masters level Certificate, or Diploma, in Research Training, in addition to their research degree.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to attend an interview the week commencing 20th May 2019.

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