UCL Grand Challenges


Priority Theme Grants awarded for work on ageing in Asia and adolescent wellbeing

14 February 2017

The Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing has awarded the first grants of this academic year, to cross-disciplinary researchers working on issues of ageing in Asia and adolescent wellbeing.

The grants will enable academics from UCL to pursue exciting new avenues of research, working with colleagues from different disciplines to have an impact on the grand challenges facing the world.

These two areas of research touch on some of the newly identified Priority Themes for the Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing. Work on ageing in Asia is part of the priority theme of demographic change, while adolescent wellbeing is part of adolescent lives, a theme that will also be taken up by the other five Grand Challenges.

These new collaborations will start now and their impact will begin to be felt over the coming months, both at UCL and beyond.

Ageing in Asia

The Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing asked researchers from across UCL to apply for funding to tackle the issue of ageing in Asia.

Populations across Asia are rapidly ageing. But few countries are prepared for the coming demand for elderly care. So far, many Asian societies have relied on families to care for their ageing relatives, but they will soon need to develop new approaches that involve more professional caregivers and community-wide solutions.

Smartphone use among the elderly in China

One of the projects funded (to the value of £2000) is going to look at smartphone use among the elderly population of China. Dr Xinyuan Wang and Dr Vivienne Lo will conduct fieldwork in Shanghai, working with the Peking University Health Sciences Center, investigating the Chinese ageing population’s daily experience with age and health associated with the rise of smartphones.

The use of smartphones among the middle-class ageing population has become commonplace and is fundamentally transforming the experience of ageing in terms of communication pattern, information consumption, leisure activities, lifelong education and mHealth. There is evidence that mHealth apps, medical services and health-related information via smartphone empower Chinese people to take charge of their health.

Dr Wang, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Anthropology, is in an ideal position to conduct further research into this fascinating social change, having translated (English to Chinese) and co-authored the Chinese version of the book Digital Anthropology (Horst & Miller, 2012), part of UCL Press's 'Why We Post' series. Dr Lo is the director of the UCL China Centre for Health and Humanity and will provide valuable expertise in the historical development of concepts of health and ageing.

The project plans to produce a joint paper by Wang and Lo on the social impact of the smartphone among Chinese ageing population from a historical-anthropological perspective and possibly joint book in the longer term. This project will lay the foundation for a longer term study of the Chinese ageing population, which, in turn, will be part of a wider global comparative anthropological study on the smartphone use among older generation in different societies worldwide based at UCL working with Daniel Miller, Professor of Anthropology at UCL.

The experiences of elderly cyber crime victims in Mumbai

Another project funded by the Grand Challenge (to the value of £4000) will interview elderly victims of cyber crime in one of India's most populous cities. The project will explore vulnerability factors, including cognitive and illness factors, family dynamics, education and IT skills, independence or dependence in undertaking transactions online, isolation, mental health and more to ask why cyber crime takes place and how it might be prevented. Researchers will work with a specialist police branch in Mumbai who will use the results as part of efforts to reduce cyber crime.

As the baby boomer generation ages in the developed world, vulnerabilities to cyber-crime with increasing dependencies in older age will be of huge importance.

The results of this study will add to our knowledge of both elder abuse and the human factors involved in computer security. It will tell us about the degree of support carers can provide to the elderly as far as cyber crime is concerned and whether the educational background and status of the elderly person and the carer has an impact on the competency to provide protection.

Kartikeya Tripathi from the Department of Security and Crime Science and Dr Claudia Cooper, from the Division of Psychiatry will work together on the project in Mumbai. They plan to interview elderly victims of cyber crimes along with their carers, concentrating on factors such as the vulnerability of the victims to phishing or computer scams that use spyware to access sensitive information and their reliance upon their carers for password management.

The study is timely as following the demonetisation of large currency notes in October 2016, there is a strong policy push by the Indian government to move people towards a cashless economy. This is especially true of large metropolitan cities like Mumbai where access to the internet and use of online transactions has been growing rapidly. 

The results of the study will be used by the Mumbai Police Cyber Crime Investigation Cell to design an awareness/training program for the carers of the elderly.

Adolescent Wellbeing

The Grand Challenge has made one award for a project on adolescent wellbeing. This will be the first piece of work under the heading of ‘Adolescent Lives’, a wider Grand Challenges programme involving all six of the Grand Challenges, addressing young people’s circumstances and prospects.

Two UCL researchers are poised to develop a smartphone app for young people, to counter issues of low wellbeing. The app is being developed by academics from the UCL MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing and the Institute of Education and will use the latest research to lower barriers to entry in finding places nearby known to be associated with greater levels of wellbeing. For example, if a young person would like to get something to eat they can open the app and be provided with the location of nearby healthy restaurants and directions on how to get there, rather than opting for the nearest fast-food chain.

The science base for the project will be robust: existing evidence from epidemiological and psychological fields on the relationship between the environment and adolescent health will be used to develop the app. The UCL researchers - Theodore Cosco from the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing and David Bann from the Institute of Education - will work in partnership with a UK-based health analytics firm specialising in the development of mobile applications. The project team will take existing evidence from their respective areas of expertise and translate them into an interactive knowledge translation interface. To date, no such technology exists so this would be a novel contribution to the app market and to the field of adolescent wellbeing.

Healthy lifestyle options are often hidden in plain view. This project will provide users with real-time information on features of the environment - that they may not be aware of – that facilitate greater wellbeing. The project team hope that by reducing the barriers to entry in this way, adolescents will make healthier choices and it will foster greater wellbeing.