Doctors and scientists create dedicated 'lifestyle lab' for city school pupils

Doctors and scientists at UHS are set to develop a state-of-the-art laboratory dedicated to improving health and lifestyle education among school pupils and students in the city.

The LifeLab centre, a joint initiative between the Trust and the University of Southampton, will give youngsters aged between five and 18 years old the chance to understand more about the relationship between diet and lifestyle and disease.

As well as the opportunity to discover how muscles respond to exercise and the influence of nutrition on the chemical structure of DNA, they will have the opportunity to go inside the body using hi-tech ultrasound equipment.

In addition, they will have the chance to work side-by-side with some of the country’s leading clinicians and academics based at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Southampton biomedical research centre in nutrition.

The development, which is due for completion in September, follows the success of the original LifeLab programme, which has seen more than 1,000 school students visit Southampton General Hospital and participate in action-packed activity days since the launch of a pilot in 2008.

Professor Cliff Shearman, associate medical director for research and development at UHS, said: “LifeLab is a fantastic innovation which brings together education, science and medicine in a stimulating, engaging and dedicated learning environment for young people.

“By visualising core public health messages and giving young people access to clinicians and academics in a custom-made setting, we strongly believe we will better prepare young people to take ownership of their health and reduce lifestyle-related medical complications in later life.”

In a study published in the journal Health Education, experts surveyed 597 14-year olds across Southampton on health, science and lifestyle and compared a group of teenagers who took part in the LifeLab pilot with a group who didn’t six months after educational sessions.

Results showed that LifeLab created a much wider appreciation among students that their current lifestyle could affect not only their long-term health but also that of their future children, while students became significantly more interested in studying science in further education.

Mark Hanson, director of the institute of developmental sciences and of human development and health at the University of Southampton, said: “There is urgent need to promote healthy lifestyles in young people in order to prevent chronic diseases in them and in their children.

“LifeLab gives pupils an authentic setting in which to engage with ongoing scientific research and health messages. By enabling them to understand the science underlying how lifestyle choices at an early age can drastically affect their health and that of their future children, we empower them to make healthier lifestyle choices.”

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