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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life SciencesHealth & Medicine

Adolescent Health and Wellbeing

We are creating new ways to help teenagers make better and more informed choices about their diet and exercise habits to ensure they and their future children are at a lower risk of developing non-communicable diseases in their adult life.

Image courtesy of LifeLab Southampton

The habits we form as teenagers tend to last throughout our adult lives. Physical and psychological changes during adolescence make it an important time to help the adults of the future form healthier habits.

Because adolescents make few demands on healthcare systems, it is assumed they their needs are small. But what does the future look like for the 1.2billion adolescents around the world today, almost 90% of whom live in developing countries?

Obesity in young people is increasing around the world – in 2016 more than 340 million children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 years old where overweight or obese and therefore have a higher risk of non-communicable disease at a younger age than previous generations. In many low- and middle-income countries, these rising rates of obesity co-exist with stunted growth and malnutrition amongst teenagers. Mental illnesses, including alcohol and other drug-related problems, are also on the rise in this population.

Researchers across Medicine, Health Sciences and Social Science are working together on projects that support the health and wellbeing of children, young people, parents and their families in the UK and around the world.

These studies are looking at a range of aspects that impact on adolescents’ lives from digital technology, to diet and exercise, to the impact clinical conditions and of the coronavirus pandemic. All aim to design new interventions that promote positive behaviour changes that will improve adolescent lives and the lives of their future children.

LifeLab Southampton

LifeLab

The healthy generation.  LifeLab: educating young people for lifelong health.

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SHARE Study

The SHARE Study

In March 2020, the UK was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, which led to a national lockdown. Schools were closed, and pupils of all ages received their education at home. Many families did not have the support they needed, especially those who have a child with a serious health condition.

Southampton researchers launched an online survey urgently assessing the needs of children and young people with a serious condition and their parents, during the COVID-19 outbreak and how best to address their concerns.

Working with partners including the University of York, and charities such as the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group, Kidney Care UK, Kidney Research UK and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, our team developed surveys covering a number of serious conditions to find out what help you need during this trying time. Conditions included cancer, kidney conditions, heart conditions, and Cystic Fibrosis.

The surveys are currently being analysed. Early results from the survey completed by parents who have children with cancer showed high levels of worry about risk of infection, the need for clear information, worries about healthcare provision, and concerns about the psychological and social impact of lockdown. Parents with children who have cancer also felt hospital was no longer a safe place and they were very worried they would transmit the virus to their child.

The SHARE study has been financially supported but the Southampton Coronavirus Response Fund and the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group, Kidney Care UK and Kidney Research UK.

Contact: Prof Anne Sophie Darlington

Tec-19 photo competition for young people in lockdown

EACH B  and TeC-19

Since 2010, Southampton researchers have been engaging teenagers in the science behind the health messages in LifeLab, an educational teaching programme that gives school pupils an interactive format of learning scientific knowledge in a relevant and accessible context for this age group. Using this extensive knowledge and resource, our teams are now conducting an intervention called EACH-B.

Through participation in LifeLab, encouragement from teachers trained to support students to improve their diets and exercise and a specially-designed, interactive smartphone app that involves friends and has game features, the trial aims to motivate and support teenagers to eat better and exercise more.

The study will also assess whether such an intervention is a cost-effective way of improving teenagers’ exercise and nutrition habits and whether it can be used within schools on a national level.

When the UK went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, young people’s lives were severely and unequivocally disrupted, affecting their social support networks, psychological development and health behaviours. The EACH-B research team launched TeC-19 (Teenagers Experiences of COVID-19) a study supported by the Institute for Life Sciences, to gain insights into how the pandemic is affecting young people’s lives, their mental health and well-being and eating habits and physical activity behaviours. The study has developed resources to support young people to maintain their well-being, eat well, keep active and adhere to government guidelines during the pandemic. The team disseminates regular insights from young people to local and national government and youth organisations. During the study, teenagers were asked to capture what COVID-19 meant to them in photos and send them to the research team.

Early findings revealed that young people felt it was difficult for them to stay at home during lockdown without being engaged in purposeful activities, while participants who were in Year 11 and 13 felt particularly lost and anxious because their education had been suspended abruptly with their national exams cancelled and them now facing the prospect of a long summer with nothing to do.

This study has now been expanded into Canada, Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa and India, to broaden the research and include young people from low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). The aim is to develop resources to support young people to maintain well-being, healthy diets and keep active and inform future interventions that will address the longer-term the impact of the pandemic on adolescent health and wellbeing.

The EACH-B team is working with partners from the University’s Transforming Adolescent Lives through Nutrition (TALENT) and Improved Nutrition Pre-conception, Pregnancy and Post-Delivery (INPreP) initiatives. Partners include Navrongo Health Research Centre in Ghana; Jimma University, Ethiopia; the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa; and Dr BMN College of Home Science, India.

Contacts:  Dr Sofia Strommer, Dr Kath Woods-Townsend, Polly Hardy-Johnson, Prof Mary BarkerProf Hazel Inskip

BREATHE4T

Asthma affects people of all ages. The UK has one of the highest rates of asthma in Europe, with 5.4 million people currently receiving treatment, more than a million of whom are children and teenagers.

There is no cure for asthma, and while research has given ways to manage symptoms like treatments and exercise, making sure people know about them and use them is challenging, especially among adolescents.

In a new study, our researchers are creating a mobile-friendly website carrying information on how breathing retraining exercises help and how they can be built into daily life.

Developed by clinicians, physiotherapists, psychologists and patients, the exercises have already shown strong benefits for adults when provided in DVD format – this new study - BREATHE4T – aims to translate this into an online format tailored to teenage audiences.

Teenagers and parents across Southampton are working with our researchers to give feedback on the site and how it can be improved so the app will help teenagers be able to better manage their asthma. A feasibility study of the website is due to start in 2021.

Contacts: Prof Graham Roberts; Stephanie Easton 

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