UCL Health of the Public


Public Health Disrupted

This podcast is about public health, but more importantly, it’s about the systems that need disrupting to make public health better.

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Welcome to the monthly podcast series from UCL Health of the Public presented by Doctor, writer and TV presenter Xand Van Tulleken and community health psychologist, UCL lecturer and self-proclaimed hippie Rochelle Burgess. 

We’re calling this podcast Public Health Disrupted because that’s exactly what we want to do. We are going to be breaking down disciplinary, sectoral and geographic boundaries to really understand the diverse and complex issues impacting our health.

Each month we’ll be joined by activists, scholars, artists, comedians and industry professionals to offer perspectives from the UCL community and beyond. Join us as we challenge the status quo of the public health field, asking what needs to change, why and how to get there. 

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NEW! Season 4

Ep.2 AI for Good - Tech and Ethics in Humanitarian Crises

Join hosts Doctor Xand van Tulleken and Dr Rochelle Burgess for Season 4, Episode 2 of Public Health Disrupted with Prof Maria Kett and Sarah Spencer.

"Is technology the magic bullet for humanitarian aid, or does it come with its own set of ethical dilemmas?"

With the expertise of Professor Maria Kett, an anthropologist with a rich background in disability-inclusive humanitarian aid, and Sarah Spencer, an AI technical consultant navigating the challenging intersection of AI, national security, and public policy, this episode explores the intricate relationship between technology and humanitarian action.

From AI’s potential for predicting and containing epidemics, to the potential pitfalls of humanitarian surveillance, our guests discuss how technology is reshaping the humanitarian landscape. They challenge us to consider the ethical implications of data security, consent, and the agency of vulnerable populations whose lives are increasingly datafied.

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Season 4

Ep.1 Injecting Innovation: Creative Ways to boost vaccination rates

Join hosts Doctor Xand van Tulleken and Dr Rochelle Burgess for Season 4, Episode 1 of Public Health Disrupted with Prof Helen Bedford and Doctor Ranj Singh.

"It's about building knowledge with communities and allowing people to ask questions without negative labelling."

Why are vaccination rates declining, and how can we rebuild trust? 

Vaccine rates are falling in the UK, and it's time we turn the tide. In this Public Health Disrupted episode, Xand and Rochelle dig into the reasons behind declining immunisation with child health experts Helen Bedford and Ranj Singh. From NHS changes to misinformation shared online, this episode uncovers key drivers of vaccine hesitancy, from misinformation proliferating online to barriers in accessing immunisation services. 

Together, our experts offer solutions like bringing vaccines to communities, improving communication by providing people with opportunities to ask questions, removing practical barriers, and increasing the perception of vaccinations as a social norm. Listen for an insightful take on improving vaccine uptake through empathy, facts and accessibility.

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Season 3

Episode 1: Living on the edge - health inequalities and rising costs

Join hosts Doctor Xand van Tulleken and Dr Rochelle Burgess for Season 3, Episode 1 of Public Health Disrupted: 'Living on the edge - health inequalities and rising costs' with Prof Sir Michael Marmot and Jack Monroe.

 “The way to get economic growth in a sustainable way is to improve the income of the bottom 60% of the population.”

How does the cost-of-living crisis affect the health of the public? What impact does financial stress have on our physical and mental wellbeing? This episode aims to reshape the narrative and create a clearer understanding of the growing economic and health problems affecting millions of people living in the UK.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot (Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity) and Jack Monroe (award-winning food writer, TV presenter, and campaigner) explain why there are health inequalities in our society and how the cost-of-living crisis disproportionally affects people on lower incomes. They outline the challenges faced by those living in poverty and what changes are required to safeguard our future against this mounting humanitarian crisis.

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Episode 2: Ultra-Processed People

Join hosts Doctor Xand van Tulleken and Dr Rochelle Burgess for Season 3, Episode 2 of Public Health Disrupted: 'Ultra-Processed People' with Chris van Tulleken and Christina Adane.

“It’s really not our fault that we struggle with our health, we have to look to the system around us and hold them accountable.”

In our fast-paced world, convenience is king where food is concerned and many of us are now fuelling our bodies with an entirely novel set of substances called Ultra-Processed Food. In today’s episode, we’re taking a closer look at this industrially processed food (which is designed and marketed to be addictive), and asking the question: do we really know what it's doing to our bodies?

Our guests, Chris van Tulleken (infectious diseases doctor, TV Presenter and writer) and Christina Adane (social campaigner, Bite Back campaign) explore why exercise and willpower can't save us, and how ultra-processed food is affecting our bodies, our health, our weight, and the planet. 

You can find out more about this topic in Chris’ newly released book, Ultra-Processed People

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Episode 3: Sex by numbers

Join hosts Doctor Xand van Tulleken and Dr Rochelle Burgess for Season 3, Episode 3 of Public Health Disrupted with Prof Cath Mercer and Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter.

“A remarkable number of claims you see in newspapers and magazines about sex are essentially made up.”

What does the average British person think about sex? For over 40 years the Natsal surveys have been recording sexual data, capturing striking changes in our behaviour and sexual lifestyles across the decades. They have been pivotal in the population measurement of the social, behavioural and biological aspects of sexual health. Its evidence has underpinned public health policy, practice and research for over 25 years.

So, how do you get someone to open up about something that’s so deeply personal and sensitive? Who decides what questions need to be asked and how much can we rely on the reported data? As a co-lead at Natsal, Prof Cath Mercer shares insights into the methodology and the survey’s broadening remit while Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter presents his argument for disrupting public health messaging.

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Episode 4: The change-up, demystifying the menopause

Join hosts Doctor Xand van Tulleken and Dr Rochelle Burgess for Season 3, Episode 4 of Public Health Disrupted with Prof Joyce Harper and Rachel Lankester.

“We’re more valuable to our communities post-menopause as leaders than as breeders.”

How does our society value menopausal women? The lack of public awareness around this natural phase in a women’s life has resulted in the menopause being associated with a lot of shame, and a whole bunch of negative misconceptions.

In this thought-provoking episode, Joyce Harper (Professor of Reproductive Science at the UCL Institute for Women’s Health) and Rachel Lankester (author of Magnificent Midlife) challenge the prevailing negative narrative surrounding the menopause by debunking common myths, and revealing the surprising beneficial rewards that await women post-menopause. Plus, what can we learn from the whales?

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Episode 5: Unravelling Health Disparities - The Racial Divide

Join hosts Doctor Xand van Tulleken and Dr Rochelle Burgess for Season 3, Episode 5 of Public Health Disrupted with Dr Halima Begum Prof Delan Devakumar.

“It’s the indirect act of racism that is leading to poorer outcomes for racialised groups.”

How does racism impact people’s health? And how big is this problem?  

We're three years on from George Floyd's murder, which launched a wave of global protests under the banner never again. This, of course, has not been the case. We're also three years since the COVID pandemic began, which really highlighted the long-standing racial health inequalities in the UK and beyond.

In this month’s episode, Dr Halima Begum (CEO of ActionAid UK) and Delan Devakumar (Professor of Global Child Health) discuss the systemic challenges faced by people of colour, and the complex relationship between racism, health equity, and efforts for social justice.

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Season 2

Episode 1: Mission-oriented Public Health

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for Episode 1 ‘Mission Oriented Public Health’ with Prof Mariana Mazzucato and Kate Raworth.

The fundamental relationship that must come in is humanity to the rest of nature.”

Would it be such a radical change to flip on its head the idea of improving the overall health of the public to prop up the economy? Redefining the idea of prosperity in the 21st Century and the balance between human wellbeing and economics are among the topics discussed by our guests: two leading thinkers in the field of innovative economics and its relationship with public health.

Together, Professor Mariana Mazzucato and renegade economist Kate Raworth tackle the topic of taking a mission-oriented approach to improving the health of the public. From redefining what prosperity looks like in a modern world, to how active a role the government should have in defining health innovation policy, and everything in between. 

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Episode 2: Singing the praises of communities 

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for Episode 2 ‘Singing the praises of communities with Dr Daisy Fancourt and Eric Whitacre.

“Every single person feels part of something larger than themselves.”

Communities are vital for a functioning society, but in an ever-changing world, has the concept of what ‘community’ means evolved into something new? Can virtual choirs really help with regulating emotions and coping with stress in the same way that singing live in a room full of people could? And is social prescribing of arts through linked support services the answer?

Grammy-award winning composer Eric Whitacre, and associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology at UCL Dr Daisy Fancourt, seek to answer these questions and more, from studying the social factors on health such as loneliness and isolation, to how singing can help regulate emotions and cope with stress, and the physiological benefits that belonging to a community can bring.

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Episode 3: The Elephant in the Planning Room

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for Episode 3 ‘The Elephant in the Planning Room’ with Michelle Ogundehin and Prof Matthew Carmona

“It is imperative that we learn to create homes that truly support and sustain us.”

Interior and external environments affect our health and wellbeing in ways that we are only now beginning to truly understand: from the impact of the urban spaces that are fundamentally unhealthy due to air pollution and noise, to acknowledging the changes that colour, daylight, mess and a good night’s sleep can have on our mood and happiness. But what is the solution; and what changes should be made to improve the overall health of the public?

Award winning expert in all things interior design, Michelle Ogundehin, and experienced architect, planner and professor of urban design, Matthew Carmona, seek to explore the avenues towards a healthier environment, bringing a higher quality of life. Whether it’s the promotion of wellbeing in new developments, shifting mindsets towards adaptable spaces over bigger spaces, or thinking about improving and not moving, Michelle and Matthew delve into their considerable research to share their thoughts on this episode.

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Episode 4: Dignity, decency and dying

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for Episode 4 ‘Dignity, decency and dying' with Dr Afsan Bhadelia & Dr Libby Sallnow.

“Death is something that affects us all and by not talking about it we make it harder.”

Death is not infinitely deferrable, yet the successes of traditional modern Western medicine in increasing life expectancy have hugely impacted the human psyche of immortality. Where can people go to understand death, where is the narrative? Can we prioritise public health in a way that is reflective of social values? And how do we overcome the barriers of power to remove inequalities and prioritise human suffering?

In this episode, Dr Libby Sallnow and Dr Afsan Bhadelia help unpack the philosophical and intricate topic of death and dying. Their recent report on the value of death, which delves into the unbalanced and contradictory picture of dying, helps frame this meaningful discussion around death and its complex systems.

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Episode 5: The power of conversation: redefining the binary around social media and young people's mental health

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for Episode 5 ‘The power of conversation: redefining the binary around social media and young people's mental health’ with Dr Chris Bagley and Ella Gregory.

“There’s much more room for nuance in the conversation than it feels like we have now."

Social media is a huge part of our lives, but growing fears are fuelling debate that it is bad for children and young people. What should the conversation around social media be and what questions should we be asking?

Exploring the binary complexities of social media, Dr Chris Bagley and Ella Gregory bring a fresh perspective to the general media narrative around social media and its effect on young people’s mental health. Are we asking the right questions without being hindered by our own bias?  Why are we struggling to make online safe? What are the real dangers? They discuss the lack of quantifiable research, exploitation, and how open and balanced conversations is key to navigating the confusing land of social media.

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Episode 6: Fat Chance: how the body positivity movement can be used to influence societal change

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for Episode 6 ‘Fat Chance: how the body positivity movement can be used to influence societal change’ with Stephanie Yeboah and Dr Aaron Parkhurst.

“The ways in which we talk about our bodies and the metaphors we use to understand our bodies, in the world around us, radically shape our health and the way we approach health.”

What is meant by the obesity crisis and where does the power lie to address the social determinants and intricacies that impact it? With a growing epidemic of chronic illness, is there a need to reframe public health’s approach to tackling obesity? 

In this episode, multi-award-winning content creator and body image/self-love advocate, Stephanie Yeboah, and international researcher and anthropologist, Dr Aaron Parkhurst, seek to answer these questions and discuss how the body positivity movement can be used to influence societal change.

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Season 1

Episode 1: What does climate change have to do with public health?

Welcome to Episode 1 of Public Health Disrupted, the brand new podcast from UCL Health of the Public.

This month, hosts Xand and Rochelle are joined by Dominique Palmer - dedicated climate activist, organiser within the UK Student Climate Network and one of Forbes 100 Top UK Environmentalists - and Prof Paul Ekins OBE - Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy and Director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources - to explore how the climate is disrupting public health.

Tackling climate change can improve our health, not only through reducing the risks of heatwaves, extreme weather events and poor air quality, but through the mitigation and adaptation strategies we use, bringing benefits for climate, the economy and health.

The effects of the climate crisis are already being felt today, and future projections highlight a devastating risk to the health of the public. Could tackling climate change be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century, helping us to address inequalities and racism, strengthen the economy and promote global health? 

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Episode 2: Stand-up for public health: how can comedy improve our health?

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for Episode 2 of Public Health Disrupted, the brand new podcast from UCL Health of the Public.

In this month’s episode, we speak to award-winning comedian and author Laura Lexx and London-based Scottish comedian and UCL academic Dr Matt Winning, to explore how comedy and humour can be used to improve health for all.

Laughter is good for your health - a good laugh can reduce stress. It can also be used as a tool to reduce the stigma of people discussing issues or raise the profile of topics to improve the health of the public. 

In this episode, Laura and Matt discuss their personal experiences of using comedy to address serious topics including mental health, infertility and climate change in their stand-up shows. Both comedians have created a space in the world of comedy to talk about public health issues, but what about the other way around? Is there space for comedy in public health?

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Episode 3: People and Power

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for the third instalment of Public Health Disrupted, the brand new podcast from UCL Health of the Public.

In public health, we often refer to 'hard to reach' groups, but are we doing enough to listen to them? This month, we speak to the co-founders of Five X More, and UCL academic Dr Carol Rivas, to explore the role of discrimination and structural disadvantage in the health inequalities experienced by different marginalised groups in the UK, and the incredible work they are doing to change this. 

Black women in the UK have a fourfoldhigher risk of dying in pregnancy in comparison to white women. Our first guests, Five X More co-founders Tinuke and Clo, join us to discuss the action they are taking to address this disparity. Five X More is a grassroots campaign dedicated to supporting mothers and empowering black women to make informed choices and advocate for themselves throughout their pregnancies and after childbirth. The campaign is committed to calling on the government and healthcare workers to change the shocking statistics.

Our second guest, Dr Carol Rivas, is an associate professor in social policy and programme evaluation at the IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society. Carol tells us more about her work on so-called hidden disabilities, their intersection with race, ethnicity and migrant status, and on developing tools that empower the voices of marginalised groups.

*When the campaign started, this number was five times more (MBRRACE 2018 & 2019).

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Episode 4: How is law good for your health?

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for Episode 4 of Public Health Disrupted, the brand new podcast from UCL Health of the Public.

In this month’s episode, we speak to Sir Keir Starmer - Leader of the Labour Party and former human rights lawyer – and Professor Dame Hazel Genn - Professor of Socio-Legal Studies and Vice-Provost International & Advancement - to explore the intersections of law and public health, and how law and legal services can help to mitigate health inequalities.


The coronavirus pandemic, and the wider governmental and societal response, have brought health inequalities into sharp focus. There is growing evidence of bi-directional links between law and health. Social and economic problems with a legal dimension can exacerbate or create ill health, and conversely, ill health can create legal problems. By promoting greater integration of health and legal services, we can have a real impact on the health of the public, and build a healthy future for all.

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Episode 5: How can arts and creativity tackle health inequalities?

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for Episode 5 of Public Health Disrupted, the brand new podcast from UCL Health of the Public.

The arts and culture sectors are among the hardest hit by the pandemic and lockdown but what would a post-pandemic world look like without art? Is there potential for arts and culture to be a significant part of the post-pandemic recovery?

In this month’s episode, we speak to widely exhibited artist Dr Harold Offeh and UCL Professor of Biology Professor Helen Chatterjee, to explore what arts and creativity have to do with public health, and how they can help tackle health inequalities.

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Episode 6: What have we learned about public health?

Join hosts Xand and Rochelle for the final episode of Season 1 of Public Health Disrupted, the brand new podcast from UCL Health of the Public.

For this final episode, we’re reflecting on what we’ve learned about public health over the past six months. Hosts Xand and Rochelle explore the episodes we’ve recorded so far that show what needs disrupting in public health, and look back at what our wonderful guests have been doing to shake up the system.

Featuring clips from interviews with Prof Paul Ekins, Dominique Palmer, Laura Lexx, Dr Matt Winning, Tinuke Awe and Clo Abe, Dr Carol Rivas, Sir Kier Starmer, Prof Dame Hazel Genn, Dr Harold Offeh and Prof Helen Chatterjee.

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If there’s a question you’d like our hosts or guests to answer, email us at healthofpublic@ucl.ac.uk or tweet @UCLHealthPublic using the hashtag #PublicHealthDisrupted.