Medicine

Outreach: LifeLab

Students from Cantell Maths and Computing College looking at their own DNA

Broader thinking. Inspiring healthier lifestyle choices

LifeLab is an innovative educational intervention being piloted in Southampton, aiming to improve young people's health and inspire an interest in science.

Research in the National Institute for Health Research funded Nutrition, Diet and Lifestyle Biomedical Research Unit and Medicine at the University of Southampton has identified the importance of early development prenatally and in infancy on long-term health as well as the importance of how both a mother's and father's diet and general health can impact on their child's lifelong health.

There is now a growing agenda for the promotion of a healthy lifestyle in young people in relation to prevention of diseases including obesity, diabetes, cancer, immunity, cardiovascular, respiratory and osteoporosis. These chronic diseases come at a significant socio-economic cost and prevention of them not only benefits the individuals at risk, but reduces the pressure on limited health resources. Coupled with these insights is an increasing recognition of the role of health literacy in enabling people to exert greater control over their health and the factors that shape health.

LifeLab is an innovative, cross-community educational intervention that develops, delivers and evaluates a number of educational programmes tailored to school students (11-18) that demonstrate the importance of diet, development and impact on Lifelong Health across a number of areas (cardiovascular, diabetes, osteoporosis) based on our world-leading research. By engaging children with the science that shows how lifestyle choices at an early age can affect health and future children's health, we hope to empower them to make healthier choices and reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases later in life.

The purpose of scientific research in the field of medicine is to improve human health. Such research generally begins in the lab, this basic research must then be translated into medical practice, whether it is prevention, treatment or cure. We feel that a missing component to this is the effective translation of the understanding of this research to the people whom it is for. LifeLab is part of Medicine's enterprise activity in terms of outreach in order to address this concern.

The LifeLab work module, comprises pre and post-visit lessons to be delivered in school, interspersed with a day at LifeLab for:

  • hands-on practical activities to embed messages about maternal and childhood nutritional influences
  • opportunities to experience modern science to inspire students with the excitement of research and future career possibilities
  • opportunities to talk with research scientists, in a "Meet the Scientist" session to explore or challenge their views of scientists

The approach enhances rather than replaces the school experience, enabling students to appreciate the relevance of modern science and aims to inspire them with the excitement of research and the possibilities for future careers.

The feedback from the schools has been hugely positive, and after attending the LifeLab activities, students have demonstrated a significantly improved awareness that nutrition during early development can affect future health, and that lifestyles of both parents can affect the health of their children.

Funding from the EPSRC, enabled us with a relatively small budget to produce educational resources for use in schools directly based on the research being carried out in the Faculty of Medicine and to run the LifeLab day for a limited number of students.

Key facts
  • Since we launched the pilot scheme of LifeLab in 2008, more than 300 children have taken part. They have seen their DNA, taken a "snapshot" of their heart health, studied how genetics can affect cholesterol levels, used ultrasound to look at their own arteries, examined skeletons and studied how nutrients cross the placenta.

  • Through hands-on learning they have discovered how the nutrition of mothers, infants and children - and their own diets and lifestyles - are the foundations for better health.

Learning through discovery

A student from Redbridge Community College loading an agarose gel.

Learning through discovery

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