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Research impact: Prof Lee Smith

Head shot of Lee Smith

As a University, our research work frequently reflects our commitment to health and wellbeing. Professor Lee Smith is carrying out work to improve wellbeing in the workplace and in education, and the health of under-represented groups such as the homeless.

Improving population health

Professor Lee Smith is Professor of Public Health and leads the Health, Performance and Wellbeing research theme at ARU. He is also the lead for our COVID-19 Research Group.

As a public health scientist, Lee has gained international recognition in several areas including physical activity, sedentary behaviour, mental health, sexual health, geriatric medicine and population health. He's also noted for the meta-analytic techniques that he uses in his research.

An epidemiologist by training, Lee's work focuses on using epidemiological findings to generate impact for the population at large. He has a particular interest in under-represented populations, and is the UK PI on a multimillion Horizon 2020 grant that is developing a cancer prevention and care pathway for the homeless across Europe.

Lee led on two impact case studies that formed part of our Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 submission:

Meanwhile, by using epidemiological data from low-and middle-income countries, Lee has found novel correlates and/or risk factors that can be targeted to improve health and wellbeing. For example, he identified that unclean cooking fuel use is associated with a plethora of negative outcomes such as depression, anxiety, mild cognitive impairment, suicidality, hearing problems, visual impairment, dynapenic abdominal obesity, and slow gait speed. Collectively these findings bolster the implementation of UN Sustainable Development Goal 7, 'Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all'.

Lee's work also focuses on areas where few researchers venture but which are critical for health and wellbeing, for example sexual activity and ageing. His research has demonstrated that a frequent and trouble-free sex life in later life is associated with a plethora of positive health benefits, including general wellbeing, better sleep and lower levels of cognitive decline. These findings and others are covered in the book Sexual Behaviour and Health in Older Adults, published by Springer.

Exercise referral and social prescribing

Exercise referral programmes can be used to support both mental and physical health. Lee holds funding to develop and evaluate exercise referral pathways for those with visual impairment in Cambridgeshire, and has recently demonstrated the positive mental health benefits of taking part in recreational fishing. The next stage is to embed recreational fishing into a social prescribing pathway and evaluate its effectiveness.

Publications and impact

Since 2014, when he completed his PhD, Lee has published around 700 peer-reviewed articles in leading scientific journals, as well as multiple book chapters and books.

In 2022 he was named as one of the world’s most influential researchers in the Highly Cited Researchers list 2022 (Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate). The list highlights the authors of the top 1% of most-cited research worldwide.

Read more about research at ARU

In May 2022 the impact of our research was recognised in the Research Excellence Framework, with every subject area having research rated as ‘world-leading’. This best-ever outcome for ARU followed the award of The Queen’s Anniversary Prize, which acknowledged the globally important work of our Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research.