LIFELAB. A UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON INITIATIVE.

Tue 15th April 2014

The following document by Laura Luff, the Senior Development Manager, sets out the LifeLab initiative.

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UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHAMPTON

LifeLab is an innovative educational intervention piloting in Southampton that aims to improve young people's health whilst inspiring an interest in science. It has been developed by researchers and educationalists at the University of Southampton in response to growing fears over health inequalities in the UK and its consequences for chronic disease, as well as concerns about the number of children choosing to study science post-GCSE.

In recent years there has been an epidemic rise in obesity rates and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that by 2015, 700 million adults across the globe will be obese. With this increase, there has been a significant rise in related non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory disease; the effects of which are placing a heavy burden on individuals and society. On a local level, there are rising levels of obesity and low levels of physical activity in Hampshire. People's lifestyle choices are affecting adversely on their health and wellbeing; poor diet, lack of physical activity and substance misuse are having a significant impact on the rise of avoidable disease in the region, particularly amongst the most underprivileged sections of society. Education must play an integral role in reversing this trend and reducing these inequalities in the UK and we believe that LifeLab offers this solution.

LifeLab is the first programme of its kind in the UK. Embedded within Southampton General Hospital, it provides secondary school students (aged 11-16) with a unique opportunity to visit a purpose-built scientific laboratory where they can discover, first-hand, how their diets and lifestyles lay the foundations for a healthier life, and how their own health is linked to the health and wellbeing of their future children. By promoting healthy behaviours in children at this crucial stage, we believe that we can break the cycle that persists in generation upon generation of those who experience a poor start in life and go on to suffer health issues down the line. As well as improving health literacy, LifeLab seeks to raise educational attainment and enthuse students about science by removing them from the traditional classroom setting and giving them the chance to spend the day as a 'real' scientist in a genuine hospital environment. Here, they can engage in a number of interactive activities, such as sampling their own DNA, using ultrasound to look at their arteries and taking X-ray images of their bones. In addition to the actual visit, the LifeLab programme comprises pre and post-visit lessons in the classroom thus creating an on-going learning experience for the students involved. This novel approach serves to empower children to make healthier lifestyle choices, whilst encouraging them to appreciate the relevance of modern science and inspiring them with the excitement of research and possibilities for future careers.

 

LifeLab is premised on pioneering research led by the University of Southampton (exempt charity X19140) into the importance of prenatal and early development upon long-term health, as well as the link between both a mother's and father's diet and general health and their child's life-long health. The University of Southampton ranks within the top 15 research-intensive universities in the UK and is firmly established as a world-leader for its ground-breaking work on the developmental origins of health and disease. The University has strong roots in the local area and strives to have a positive impact on our community through its innovative research, outreach and cultural engagement. The concept of LifeLab is central to our commitment of employing our novel research to better the lives of individuals and improve society.

LifeLab has been running as a pilot study in temporary facilities in Southampton since 2008 and has engaged more than 1000 children throughout Southern England to date. The programme has a significant local presence and has received positive feedback from local schools, OFSTED and Southampton City Council. Our results have shown that not only do students show an increased awareness of the links between early development and life-long health after participating in the LifeLab programme, but they demonstrate an enthusiasm for science that previous classroom-based approaches have failed to achieve. For example, the number of children who said that they were likely to carry on studying science post-GCSE more than doubled, whilst those who recognised the importance of adopting healthier lifestyles increased substantially. Further to our successful pilot phase, we have been able to raise the necessary funds to establish a permanent site for LifeLab within Southampton General Hospital. Construction is now complete and LifeLab is hosted in a new dedicated space. We will continue to evaluate the impact and success of LifeLab as the project progresses and received support to fund a cluster-randomised trial assessing the long-term effects of the programme.

LifeLab is truly a flagship initiative for Southampton and will create a lasting legacy for the University, city and region. With the capacity to reach 6000 students a year by 2016, and to be replicated around the world, LifeLab has the potential to achieve positive and long-lasting change not only in the UK but across the globe. I hope that this brief summary effectively conveys the significance of this exciting project; please don't hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss anything further or would like any additional information.

(signed) Laura Luff

Senior Development Manager

l.luff@soton.ac.uk

Office of Development and Alumni Relations, Highfield Campus, University of Southampton, SO17 1BJ United Kingdom Tel: +44 (0)23 8059 2747 Fax: +44 (0)23 8059 7373 www.southampton.ac.uk