Public Health Research

Commission activities in the areas of research for public health

Public health research will lead the way in providing evidence for the best health practices. It will make use of various types of data, collaborate across various sectors and countries, and emphasize long-term impact. The needs of the patient will lead the way in determining research agenda and policy. As there is a shift towards prevention-based healthcare to improve the quality of life, the community should be brought back into health care.

Public health research fields include health, environment & lifestyle, mental health, foresight, health systems and services, Research for maternal and child health and global health. Under Horizon 2020, we are addressing priorities for public health research funding in these fields in Europe and worldwide, including in low-or middle-income countries.

Health, environment & lifestyle

Healthy diet and regular physical activity have many health benefits, including a reduced risk of overweight /obesity and major non-communicable diseases (coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancers). Physical activity helps to maintain good mental health by reducing stress reactions, anxiety and depression, and could possibly delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Despite the known benefits of physical activity and healthy nutrition, estimates indicate that, in Europe, more than one quarter of adults are insufficiently active – and this represents an enormous personal, social and economic burden for EU citizens, national health care systems, and the EU economy.

Mental health

Mental health disorders represent a heavy burden on Europe, both at the individual and societal level. More than 1 in 3 Europeans experience mental health problems in any given year, and even more are affected indirectly. The costs in Europe have been estimated at 461 billion EUR per year (2010). Poor mental health is a common cause for absence from work and premature retirement, impacting the productivity and competitiveness of the European workforce. People with mental health problems do not have sufficient access to mental health services that can help meet their needs. Horizon 2020 has funded mental health research for a total of 543 million EUR.


Foresight is a process of thinking through alternative variants of the future, with the aim to improve policy choices and decisions. In the European Commission's policy cycle, foresight comes at an early stage, well before decisions are taken or priorities are set.

Health systems and services

Health systems must adapt effectively to changing environment, and tackle significant challenges with limited resources: changing demographics and burden of disease, advances in biomedical research, health technologies and personalized medicine, and the availability of large data sets.

Research for maternal and child health

In 2015, estimated 216 women died per 100,000 live births, and 45% of total deaths among children under five occurred in the first month of life. Leading causes of death in under-five children are preterm birth complications, pneumonia, birth asphyxia, diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition. These deaths are disproportionately concentrated in low and middle-income countries, but maternal and child health in Europe and other high-income countries is similarly challenged by growing health inequities. Lifestyle-related conditions that are prevalent in high-income countries (e.g. obesity, diabetes, hypertensive disorders) also negatively influence pregnancy and child development.

Global Health

Global health research contributes to reducing the growing inequities in health, notably in terms of access, availability, affordability and acceptability of quality health care. The Sustainable Development Goal 3, adopted by the United Nations summit in September 2015, is dedicated to improving global health by ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.

Fact sheets