The EpiArts Lab: Exploring the impact of arts and cultural engagement on population health outcomes in the US through epidemiological analyses of US cohort studies
Over the past few decades, there has been a heightened interest in the effects of arts and cultural participation on health. Recent studies in the United Kingdom have shown that arts engagement is associated with:
- better mental health, lower risk of depression, reduced loneliness, fewer childhood adjustment problems, and enhanced health behaviors.
Arts and cultural participation has also been associated with:
- lower risk of physical illness, including onset and progression of chronic pain, frailty, age-related disability, dementia, and premature mortality.
Notably, these results have been found while accounting for demographic, socio-economic, health, behavioral, and social confounders. Further, these analyses have considered the underlying mechanisms that might explain these associations, including psychological mechanisms such as self-esteem, neurocognitive mechanisms such as memory and executive function, and biological mechanisms such as inflammatory immune response. Despite the presence of these findings, little research has been undertaken in the United States to explore the benefits of arts on population-level health.
- Research Questions
Through the establishment of the EpiArts Lab – a National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab, in partnership with University College London – this research will build on the epidemiological approach to measuring the impact of the arts at a population level used to garner many of the findings noted above. Through epidemiological analyses of US cohort studies, the EpiArts Lab will undertake an initial three-year study to explore the impacts of arts and cultural engagement on population health outcomes in the US, as well as the mechanisms involved. These analyses will address the overarching research question: Does arts engagement have long-term benefits for health in the US?
Several specific questions will guide the research:
- Are there associations between arts engagement, promotion of wellbeing and prevention of/recovery from mental illness?
- Is arts engagement associated with engagement in health-promoting behaviors or reduced likelihood of emotional-behavioral problems or engagement in risky behaviors?
- Is engaging in the arts associated with a reduced risk of physical ill-health, such as developing non-communicable diseases, dementia or age-related decline?
Fortunately, there exist a number of publicly available large-scale cohort studies that have gathered longitudinal data about arts and cultural engagement alongside variables on individual and social health and wellbeing in the US. These large datasets will provide sufficient statistical power to draw meaningful conclusions. Recognizing that the UK and US have different patterns of arts engagement, demographics, social/political structures and health challenges, the project will be undertaken in three phases: 1) scoping and convening; 2) analysis; and 3) dissemination.
- Anticipated Outcomes
In the UK, this work has had significant impacts on national health and social care policy. The National Health Service’s (NHS) Department of Health and Social Care has made a major investment in social prescribing, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently issued a report with policy recommendations for the WHO European Region on how to capitalize on the importance of the arts for public health. As a result of the work of Dr. Fancourt’s team, several UK government departments have implemented major policy and practice changes, such as the Department of Health and Social Care investing in Arts on Prescription, which provides funding and a structure through which care providers refer patients to local arts and social engagement activities by way of professional link workers who are employed to connect people to local cultural resources.
The program has resulted in positive impacts, including improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing for those participating. We anticipate that published and widely disseminated findings from this research will have similar and equally transformative policy implications in the United States, including:
- increased investments in community-based arts and cultural programming
- increased cross-sector collaboration between the public health and arts and culture sectors
- increased understanding of the health benefits of arts and cultural participation among the general public
As a result, we anticipate several broader impacts, including overall growth in the arts and culture sector, increased participation in the arts among the general public and, most importantly, enhanced health, wellbeing and social cohesion among Americans.
The EpiArts Lab builds upon the epidemiological research conducted by Dr. Daisy Fancourt at University College London in the UK, and on the UF Center for Arts in Medicine’s two-year initiative, Creating Healthy Communities: Arts + Public Health in America, with ArtPlace America. This initiative was designed to drive cross-sector collaboration among the public health, community development, and arts sectors.
The EpiArts Lab is a National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab, and is part of the University of Florida’s “Creating the Healthiest Generation” Moonshot initiative, which is supported by the UF Office of the Provost, UF Office of Research, UF Health, UF College of Medicine, UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute and is supported by Johnson & Johnson.
US principal investigator: Jill Sonke, University of Florida
UK principal investigator: Daisy Fancourt, University College London