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The University of Southampton

The hospital classroom

Achieving sustainable health behaviour change in adolescents

PI: Professor Mark Hanson


The aim of this BUPA funded project is to measure the change in knowledge of NCD risk factors, such as the impact of environment in early life, attitude and behaviour in relation to diet and lifestyle, and their health effects. The researchers will assess adolescent abilities as science and health communicators, and whether the intervention also changes their parents’ lifestyle.


‘Science for Health Literacy’ is a concept that recognises the importance of science literacy in understanding and promoting social issues and, therefore, healthy behaviour. Pilot studies in the UK and New Zealand have shown that application of this approach is beneficial for student attitudes and behaviour. This project aims to test whether this approach produces sustained behaviour change over a longer period of time using a randomised controlled trial.

Six urban schools in the UK and New Zealand will be recruited. Three schools in two cities will be randomly allocated an intervention and students will be of mixed ability. Science teachers will have the opportunity to engage with the underlying science and plan the use of the learning resources appropriately. The students will visit dedicated university or hospital research laboratories so that they can connect with the research community. In New Zealand, the project is called LENScience.

Laboratory sessions are hands-on, where students interact with scientists and measure ECG, the effect of exercise on heart rate and blood pressure, arterial blood flow and carotid artery wall thickness, bone density, muscle strength, placental transport and extraction of their own DNA to explore the effect of lifestyle on gene expression. The control and intervention groups in both cities will be compared by pre and post-intervention questionnaires to measure their change in adolescent knowledge, attitudes and behaviour, and that of their families. Interviews, questionnaires and case studies will also be conducted.

NCDs, primarily cardiovascular and lung disease, diabetes and cancer, cause 60 percent of deaths globally. Research suggests that interventions are most effective in early life when they can reduce current risk and induce sustained behaviour change. Both populations to be studied include individuals from high risk ethnic groups, such as Chinese, Indian, Polynesian and Maori, and the impact of early prevention could be particularly important given the early onset of NCDs in these populations.

Impact to date

This project is ongoing.

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