19th December 2011

Paul Norman wins £485,954 Medical Research Council grant for a project entitled "Time to change! Using the transition from school to university to promote healthy lifestyle habits in young people"

Lay summary for the research project:
Eating healthily, exercising, drinking sensibly and not smoking are known to reduce the risk of developing serious diseases and conditions in later life. However, few young people engage in these health behaviours. The research will develop and test a theory-based intervention that targets several health behaviours (i.e., fruit and vegetable intake, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking) among young people, that will be delivered using the latest digital technologies during the transition from school to university. The potential impact of the trial is substantial because the intervention (a) combines three techniques from health psychology, each with a strong theory- and evidence-base, to promote healthy lifestyle habits in young people; namely, self-affirmation to reduce resistance to health messages, theory-based health messages to increase people’s motivation to change, and implementation intentions to ensure that good intentions are translated into behaviour, (b) targets a large proportion of young people (up to 40% of all school leavers start university each year) who do not meet current health behaviour recommendations, (c) during a critical period when changes in health behaviour are likely to be easier to promote due to changes in the environmental context, (c) using methods that are part of students’ social worlds (i.e., digital technologies) that ensure that the intervention is interactive, sustained, contextualised and personalised. A randomised controlled trial with 2 arms is proposed (intervention vs. control) with all new incoming students to the University of Sheffield. The intervention will last from one month before to one month after starting university. Online measures of health beliefs and behaviour will be taken at baseline (one month pre-university) and after one and six months after starting university to assess the effectiveness of the intervention and to inform the health economic analyses.