Hands-on learning dramatically improves young people’s understanding of healthy lifestyles

A study from the University of Southampton has shown that its LifeLab program, which aims to improve adolescent health through hands-on learning, gives young people a better understanding of what it means to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Led by a team from the Faculty of Medicine and School of Education at the University of Southampton, the LifeLab program aims to encourage engagement with the science behind public health messages, to support literacy development in health alongside decision-making skills and adolescent promotion. feeling of control over their life and their future.

Based at University Hospital Southampton (UHS) NHS Foundation Trust, LifeLab is a cutting-edge educational lab dedicated to improving adolescent health through scientific engagement.

Latest research, published in the journal PLOS ONE and funded by the British Heart Foundation, found that participation in LifeLab was associated with increased health literacy among students 12 months later. It was also found that participants subsequently judged their own lifestyle more critically than students who had not participated in the program.

Health literacy can be described as having the knowledge, skills, understanding and confidence to use health and care information and services and apply them to lifestyle choices.

A growing body of evidence suggests that adolescence is a critical developmental stage during which lifelong health literacy can be established, providing a potential window of opportunity during which improvements in performance can occur. health literacy could benefit long-term health and enable parenting preparation – by passing on good future children.

The randomized controlled trial was conducted in 38 secondary schools in England, drawing on the principles of education, psychology and public health to engage students in science for health literacy, focused on the message “ Me, my health and the health of my children ”.

The program included a professional development day for teachers, a two to three week work package for 13-14 year olds and a one-day hands-on health science visit to a dedicated facility in a hospital. university. Information was collected from 2,929 adolescents aged 13 to 14 years at baseline and 2,487 at follow-up 12 months later.

“The LifeLab experience led to improved adolescent health literacy and a shift towards more critical judgment of health behavior 12 months after the intervention,” said Dr. Kath Woods-Townsend, who heads the LifeLab program. “By providing opportunities that are tied to the national curriculum and that meet the needs of schools, we have shown that students can be successfully involved in the science behind health messages, with lasting benefits to their health literacy.

Sharing her thoughts, Professor Hazel Inskip, Principal Investigator in the Life Course Epidemiology Unit study at the University of Southampton’s Medical Research Council, said:

“The importance of health literacy among young people is increasingly recognized, but there are very few randomized controlled trials to evaluate interventions that promote health literacy by working in partnership with schools. It is an exciting step forward to show that such a program can engage adolescents in science, resulting in lasting changes in health literacy and more critical judgment of their own behavior. “

Interventions during adolescence have the potential for a “triple dividend” of benefits now, in later adulthood, and for the next generation of children. The LifeLab program paves the way for young people to access, understand and think about what they need to do to live healthier lives. “

Keith Godfrey, Co-Investigator and Professor, National Institute for Health Research Center for Biomedical Research, Southampton


Journal reference:

Woods-Townsend, K., et al. (2021) A cluster randomized controlled trial of the LifeLab educational intervention to improve health literacy in adolescents. PLOS ONE. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0250545.

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