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School leavers are more likely to smoke, eat higher fat foods and be less active.

Press Release - 15 July 2008

Project to encourage healthy lifestyle habits in school leavers

Researchers at the University of Bath are working with young people as they leave school for employment in an attempt to promote healthy lifestyle habits.

Studies have shown that students who leave school for work typically enter low paid employment and are more likely to smoke, eat higher fat foods and be less active.

As these factors predispose them to greater risk of cardiovascular disease later in life, the aim of the project is to help this segment of the population develop good lifestyle habits as they start their working lives.

Dr Martyn Standage and Dr Fiona Gillison from the University’s School of Health, along with Professor Bas Verplanken from the Department of Psychology, have secured funding of £375,000 from the Medical Research Council to work with school leavers over the next three years.

The project will look at the efficacy of a community-based three month healthy habits intervention on young people’s diet and level of physical activity, and to investigate the use of incentives, such as cinema vouchers, to encourage them to take part. Once enrolled, they will be given ongoing behavioural support to establish and maintain healthy eating and activity practices.

Dr Standage said: “Cardiovascular disease costs the UK economy in excess of £29 billion every year and past research has shown that those who leave school to do manual or low paid clerical work to be more vulnerable to heart disease. It is somewhat surprising that, to date, intervention studies have failed to target this ‘at risk’ group. Indeed, we view the school-to-work transition as an opportunity for young people to develop new lifestyle habits as their old routines are disrupted as they leave education, and their peer group, to start a job. This project will provide advice and behavioural support to help them to develop healthy habits.”

Drs Standage & Gillison and Professor Verplanken launched the project this month by visiting youth clubs in Swindon and Wiltshire, talking to young people about their priorities at this time in their lives, and what they thought about the scheme.

For the second stage, which will take place later in the year, the team will run a pilot test of the project before launching a final cluster randomised controlled trial. This trial will involve the team visiting schools across Swindon and Wiltshire to recruit school leavers to take part in a three month initiative. The scheme will be based in local leisure centres, to provide a more familiar and friendly environment than health care settings, where the young people can obtain the support of fitness trainers and dieticians.

The team will then follow the progress of the young people for one year to analyse the success of the project.

Dr Standage said: “The challenge will be to get young people to come along to the first appointment and that’s why we have the incentives on offer. Once enrolled, our approach will be to help the participant to take ownership of their lifestyle habits by facilitating autonomous engagement in these behaviours.”

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