Senior Research Fellow, University College London
Smoking cessation; alcohol consumption and public health
Dr Brown completed his PhD in Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge in 2010 and worked as a post-doctoral research associate within the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL until 2013 when he was appointed a fellow of the Society for Study of Addiction in the Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, UCL. In over 50 publications on a variety of topics, a key focus has been on developing and evaluating new methods of helping smokers to stop. He has been invited to present his work on e-cigarettes at three international conferences, to the UK regulatory authorities for medicines, and has co-authored a briefing to the UK all-party parliamentary pharmacy group. He is a co-author of Theory of Addiction (second edition) and ABC of Behaviour Change Theories, and an Assistant Editor at the journal Addiction. The fellowship has allowed him to expand his research interests beyond tobacco to include alcohol misuse.
The proposed fellowship research aims to assess and mitigate the impact of excessive alcohol consumption on public health in England and includes two related projects, i) investigating national patterns of behaviour related to alcohol consumption and ii) developing and evaluating a new smartphone application to reduce excessive consumption. The first project has involved establishing the Alcohol Toolkit Study (ATS) in collaboration with colleagues funded by NIHR’s School for Public Health Research. Each month, trained interviewers conduct household interviews of a representative sample of adults in England aged 16+. The survey went into the field in March 2014 and baseline data will be collected on around 20,000 participants each year. All people with higher-risk drinking who consent to be followed up are asked to complete a survey 6 months later. The ATS is providing timely tracking data on key alcohol-related variables in England, and the study team aim to evaluate how these relate to national and local policies, campaigns and events. The evaluations will focus on trends and impact as a function of major socio-demographic variables. The ATS and the long-established Smoking Toolkit Study (STS; www.smokinginengland.info) involve the same respondents and will thereby allow the assessment of associations between alcohol and tobacco use and corresponding time trends. The second project has begun with a review of the evidence for, and theoretical basis of, the effectiveness of mobile phone apps in changing health behaviour, a formal consensus building method with experts in the fields of alcohol or behaviour change, and a systematic analysis of the availability of existing alcohol reduction apps and the behaviour change techniques they include. On the basis of this systematic development work, an app is being built centred around goal-setting for people wishing to reduce their excessive alcohol consumption. The short-term effectiveness and acceptability of five high-priority modules – approach-avoidance training; normative misperceptions; identity change; self-monitoring and feedback; and action-planning – will be evaluated in a factorial design. Using the results from this short-term evaluation, and an iterative process of user testing and refinement, a final version will be created and compared with an information-only app in a RCT with a 3-month follow-up.
The fellowship has funded Dr Brown’s salary but the projects involve other considerable costs which have been provided by the NIHR School for Public Health Research and UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, and much of the work has been done in collaboration with other researchers, including Prof Susan Michie, David Crane, Claire Garnett, Dr Emma Beard & Prof Robert West.