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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

Research supporting ‘lost and anxious’ young people through the current pandemic goes international

Published: 10 June 2020
Image credit Mary Barker
Image credit Mary Barker

An Institute for Life Sciences-funded study into supporting ‘lost and anxious’ young people through the COVID-19 pandemic, has received further funding to expand its research into Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa and India.

Academics from Southampton’s Global Health Research Institute have been awarded nearly £65,000 from the University’s Global Challenges Research Funding (GCRF) Strategic Development Fund to broaden their research to include young people from these low-and middle-income countries (LMICs).

The original study saw researchers from Medicine’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit and the Southampton Education School, Psychology and Health Sciences explore the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on young people and how they could be better supported during the pandemic. It was funded by the IfLS as part of their commitment to working with the global effort to better understand and address the COVID-19 pandemic particularly in the area of adolescent health.

Young people are widely believed to have taken less notice of the ‘lockdown’ than others and have been criticised by some commentators for endangering themselves and the wider population.

The initial study, led by IfLS member Mary Barker, a Southampton Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Science, and LifeLab’s Engaging Adolescents in Changing Behaviour research project, engaged young people from across the UK to gain insights into how they understood government messaging, how they dealt with the restrictions on their freedom of movement, what support they felt would have helped them to stay at home and their views on the potential approaches to safely come out of a national lockdown.

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 Year 11 and 13 study participants recorded feeling 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.

These findings were used to develop resources to support young people, to provide useful information to Hampshire County Council and Southampton City Council and to hold discussions with providers about ways in which young people could be involved in volunteering activities during the pandemic.

The new funding means the study is now being expanded with partners from the University’s Transforming Adolescent Lives through Nutrition (TALENT) and Improved Nutrition Pre-conception, Pregnancy and Post-Delivery (INPreP) initiatives. These 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.

TALENT’s Dr Polly Hardy Johnson, who is leading the project, said: “Our research will explore the experiences of young people living in these LMICs during the COVID-19 pandemic including how the pandemic has affected their psychological functioning and wellbeing, and their diet and physical activity behaviours. Based on the findings and the needs of young people, the LMIC partners will develop resources to support young people to maintain well-being, healthy diets and keep active.

“Partners will make contact with key local and national stakeholders such as local governments and youth organisations to disseminate insights from the young people to inform response to the pandemic in each site. The work will also provide key data to inform future intervention design addressing longer-term the impact of the pandemic on adolescent health and wellbeing.

“We are now looking at expanding this project even further. Researchers from McMaster University, in Canada, have confirmed that they will be running this protocol with adolescents, and there has also been interest from sites in Australia and Pakistan.”

Professor Mary Barker added: “We are really delighted that our international colleagues are interested in running this study in parallel and that we will be able to use these data to support so many young people through the pandemic in so many different countries. Polly is doing a fantastic job co-ordinating this unique, fast-moving and ever-growing study which is bringing international attention to the University of Southampton.”

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