Engaging adolescents in changing behaviour
Professor Hazel Inskip leads the development, body composition and health research programme within the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton. She has focused a lot of her time on women’s health, completing studies on the impact of maternal health and behaviours on the health and lifestyles of children.
"When we look to the future of the NHS, there are some alarming statistics that show how much impact poor diet and a lack of exercise is having. It currently costs the NHS £7 billion a year and causes far too many premature deaths.
"We know that conditions like diabetes, obesity and infertility can all be helped through healthy lifestyle and that bringing them under control will reduce the impact on the NHS in the future.
"We wanted to create an intervention that would help prevent adolescents from falling into bad habits which would have a negative impact on their future health.
"There is a lot of research that tells us how habits formed as teenagers tend to last, so we knew that this group of people were important to target.
"We consider them to have a triple benefit – they can change their now, their future and the future of the next generation through their influence.
"We also know that teenagers are highly influenced themselves and are going through a stage of trying new things, growing and rebelling against the status quo – so they have the potential to be a powerful tool for change."
"Led by Mary Barker, Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Science at the University of Southampton, the Engaging Adolescents in Changing Behaviour (EACh-B) intervention is an extension of our LifeLab initiative that has been running since 2007.
"School students get to spend one day of their academic year working in the purpose-built lab, experimenting and discovering many different aspects of their bodies and their lifestyle to see how it impacts them and how they can make changes for the better.
"LifeLab feeds into the science curriculum, with students learning about the issues before their trip to the LifeLab where they get to do final exploration, experiments and share their findings.
"We have 200 scientists that spend time with the students on the day and help them to explore the health messages around what they are discovering.
"After the LifeLab visit the students work on their own research project to embed the learning. The best thing about LifeLab is that it’s all done through fun.
"We have all sorts of fun experiments and tests they can do – from giant Jenga that has health risk factors on it to grip strength tests and DNA extraction processes.
"The most important part is that they come away understanding their individual health risk factors and they make a pledge to do something to help alleviate any risks that they’ve identified.
"EACh-B has been designed to help catch adolescents before their habits become habits for life. LifeLab is an essential part of this, but there are also two other vital strands to its approach.
"The second strand is to train teachers to offer greater support to their pupils and help them make better choices around their diet and how they exercise.
"The third is the development of an app which will enable the students to log and track their pledges, discover what their triggers are for changing certain behaviours and see the rewards of the changes they are making.
"The teacher training will focus around healthy conversation skills. We want students to be encouraged to find answers for themselves and discover the benefits of making changes to their lifestyle, so teachers will be equipped with skills that will develop enquiring minds around health and lifestyle.
"The app is in development with Glasgow Caledonian University. We wanted to create a digital application that would help track and maintain the students’ progress, showing their pledge and allowing them to update where they are and what they’re doing.
"It will have game elements incorporated to engage the students, which we hope will act as a trigger to help nudge them towards healthy lifestyle choices and reward them through achievements on the app.
"EACh-B will be beginning its pilot phase in January 2019 for four months. This will then shape and fine-tune the main trial in October 2019, which will be done over the course of three years.
"The £2 million of funding we’ve received from the NIHR means that we will be able to reach more adolescents and continue to reach them once they’ve completed their experience with LifeLab.
"This intervention is a culmination of the work I have been doing for years. I know how important it is to have healthy habits and I want to do something that will make an impact and really make a difference to people’s lives.
"I hope that through EACh-B we will achieve that and can help a generation of people to lead happier and healthier lives."
EACh-B is funded by the NIHR Central Commissioning Facility (CCF) and sponsored by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.