Background Behavioural risk factors are the largest contributor to the non-communicable disease burden, and those of parents can affect prenatal and infant development with lasting impact on children’s long-term health. Adolescence offers a window of opportunity during which improvements in health behaviours would not only benefit long-term health of individuals, but also enable them to be better prepared for parenthood and pass better health prospects to their children. We have developed an educational intervention, LifeLab, based around a purpose-built laboratory in University Hospital Southampton with support from teachers, to engage adolescents in understanding effects of their health behaviours for themselves and their future children.
Aims To assess whether engaging adolescents with the science behind health messages, thus improving their science literacy, increases their health literacy and hence their health behaviours.
Methods In a pilot study, in preparation for a large cluster randomised trial of LifeLab, we recruited six schools. Three were randomised to the LifeLab intervention and three to control, with 392 students completing online questionnaires at baseline and 12 months follow up. Summary statistics were used to examine differences between groups. The categorical outcome variables were dichotomised and Poisson regression with robust variance used to obtain prevalence rate ratios (PRRs) for the outcome in relation to the intervention, adjusted for baseline values, sex and Index of Deprivation Affecting Children (IDACI) score.
Results 12 months post intervention, intervention students had greater understanding than control students of the influences of health behaviours on their long term health and that of their children. Compared with control students those in the intervention were more likely to agree that nutrition starts to affect our future health early in life (PRR 1.87 (95%CI 1.42–2.45) and that the food a father eats before having a baby could affect the health of his children (PRR 4.05 (95%CI: 2.34–7.01)), but no more likely to agree that it was important to eat healthy food now (PRR 1.19 95% CI: 0.79–1.79)). The students in the intervention groups took similar amounts of exercise and their diets were comparable to those in the control group.
Discussion It is possible to change students’ scientific awareness and health literacy as measured 12 months after the LifeLab intervention, but this does not necessarily translate into behaviour change. Interventions require more than knowledge acquisition in order to motivate and sustain behaviour change.
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