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Adolescence is a Window of Opportunity for improving Health Literacy

May 2021

A study by the University of Southampton has shown that its LifeLab programme, aimed at improving adolescent health through hands-on learning, significantly increases young people’s understanding of what it means to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Led by a team from both the Faculty of Medicine and Education School at the University of Southampton, the LifeLab programme aims to encourage engagement with the science behind public health messages, to support development of health literacy alongside decision-making skills and promotion of adolescents’ sense of control over their lives and futures. Based at University Hospital Southampton (UHS) NHS Foundation Trust, LifeLab is a state-of-the-art teaching laboratory dedicated to improving adolescent health through science engagement. 

Latest research, published in the journal PLoS One and funded by the British Heart Foundation, has found that participation in LifeLab was associated with an increase in students’ health literacy 12 months later. There was also evidence that participants subsequently judged their own lifestyles more critically than students who had not taken part in the programme. 

School children taking part in LifeLab (pre-pandemic)

Health literacy means having the knowledge, skills, understanding and confidence to use health & care information and services, and to apply these to lifestyle choices. Increasing evidence suggests that adolescence is a critical developmental stage during which lifelong health literacy can be established. This presents an important window of opportunity during which improvements in health literacy could benefit long-term health, and enable preparation for parenthood – passing on good health prospects to future children. 

The randomised controlled trial was conducted in 38 secondary schools in England, drawing on principles of education, psychology and public health to engage students with science for health literacy, focused on the message ‘Me, my health and my children’s health’. The programme comprised a professional development day for teachers, a two to three week module of work for 13-14-year-olds and a ‘hands-on’ practical health science day visit to a dedicated facility in a university teaching hospital. Information was collected from 2929 adolescents aged 13-14 years, at baseline and 2487 at follow-up 12-months later.


Dr Kath Woods-Townsend, LifeLab programme Lead: “Experiencing LifeLab led to improved health literacy in adolescents and a move towards a more critical judgement of health behaviour 12 months after the intervention. By providing opportunities linked to the National Curriculum, and which meet schools’ needs, we have shown that students can be successfully engaged with the science behind the health messages, with lasting benefits for their health literacy.”


Professor Hazel Inskip, principal investigator on the study from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton: “The importance of health literacy in young people is being increasingly recognised, but there are very few randomised controlled trials seeking to assess interventions that promote health literacy through working in partnership with schools. It is an exciting step forwards to show that such a programme can engage adolescents with science, leading to sustained changes in health literacy and more critical judgement of their own behaviour.”


Professor Keith Godfrey, a co-investigator on the study from the National Institute for Health Research Southampton Biomedical Research Centre: “Interventions during adolescence have the potential for a ‘triple dividend’ of benefits now, into future adult life and for the next generation of children. The LifeLab programme paves the way for enabling young people to access, understand and reflect on what they need to do to live healthier lives.”

Budding young film makers urge their communities not to let down their guard as restrictions ease

March 2021

View our coverage on ITV, & the BBC (01:08-02:08)

Young people across the south have turned their hand to creating films in an effort to urge their peers to continue keeping themselves and their communities safe from the spread of COVID-19.

Funded by Southampton City Council's COVID-19 Innovations Grant, which supports projects that target hard-to-reach groups and groups where COVID-19 is highest or may increase, organisations including LifeLab and Southampton Children’s Hospital at University Hospital Southampton brought young people and professional filmmakers together.

LifeLab, a University of Southampton education programme for young people discovering the science behind health messages, and Southampton Children’s Hospital worked with young people in schools, colleges and youth groups to produce short films with the help of professional production companies.

Together they co-created a range of films with messaging around the importance of sticking to the guidance and reflecting on life in lockdown in a range of different styles.

Young actors from Richard Taunton Sixth Form College and Itchen College participated in the films that were produced by Robin Creative Media with the help of students from Toynbee School in Eastleigh. 

Separately students at Cantell School in Southampton created a video with clips submitted by students to demonstrate how young people were making a difference with support from Southpoint Films.

The Southampton Children’s Hospital Youth Ambassador Group (YAG) used their funding to produce a collection of three films with education and development film makers, In Focus. The films give a young person’s view on the impact of COVID-19 and cover topics including public health messaging and wellbeing through poetry and animation.

YAG is made up of young people aged 11 to 17 from across the South who have a connection to the hospital either as a patient or relative and who want to get involved and improve services for young people.

If you enjoyed the films in this post, you can find the full collection now released on our social media channels

Please use the #bepartofthesolution when sharing on social channels.


Ipsa Dash, a youth ambassador, said: “During these unprecedented times, it felt like nothing was in our control what with the never ending uncertainty but I believe this project made me realise we really could make a difference. I am really pleased with the outcome.”

Dr Kathryn Woods-Townsend, programme lead for LifeLab, said: “These projects were about giving young people ownership of messaging that affects them. This was a great opportunity for them to shape the sort of communications they want to see when it comes to their own health and that of their community.”

Louisa Green, divisional head of nursing and professions for SCH, said: “These videos are a wonderful example of how committed our young ambassadors are in making a difference to the health and wellbeing of their communities. The films have some really strong messaging around the impact Covid on young people but also their commitment to keep going with following the guidance as restrictions ease.

“Projects like these really help us towards our goal of our COVID ZERO campaign, having no transmission of the virus within our hospitals, and the community have a vital part of play in that.”

Debbie Chase Director of Public Health at Southampton City Council said: “My thanks to all the young people involved in developing these films. They are both creative and powerful in their messaging. We know that how a message is conveyed, and the way it makes us feel, is important in shaping safe and healthy attitudes and behaviours. These films have been created by young people for young people and form part of a selection of videos created by members of Southampton communities for our communities. We all have a responsibility to stay safe as restrictions ease and it's also important that we help our families, peers, work colleagues and local communities to do the same."

Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH)

February 2021

In a piece of work funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, RSPH has collaborated with the LifeLab & the University of Southampton in the development of the RSPH Level 2 Award for COVID-19 Young Health Champions. This qualification is designed to support young people in secondary schools to understand the purpose and the importance of measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, giving them the tools and education to make informed choices about their health and wellbeing.

This project is part of the work undertaken in Southampton to pilot a saliva testing programme for COVID-19. This has included testing taking place in educational settings in the city, such as schools, colleges and universities. The educational resources designed through this project are intended to help young people to understand how to engage in this testing process, as well as to deepen their understanding of the wider measures in place in schools and across wider society to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

Read more here.

Meet our 
Covid Warriors 
December 2020 

Artistic students have been getting creative by designing COVID-19 Warriors as part of our work supporting schools that are taking part in the saliva project. 

Young people were set the challenge of coming up with an imaginative character who could battle the virus using their superpowers and defeat COVID-19. We got an overwhelming response with more than 170 students submitting their ideas. 

The project team will be using some of the designs to create a team of COVID-19 Warriors to help us all defeat the virus and make good choices. Our team of Superheroes will have capes, masks and a toolbelt containing all the items they need to stay safe – just like in these brilliant designs. 

The characters will then be used as part of the teaching programme we will be delivering to more young people as the programme expands. 

Along with the examples below, we have also put together a collage of all the entries which is available by following this link: collage-of-covid-warriors 

Collage of Covid Warrior drawings

Last modified: Tuesday, 1 March 2022, 5:13 PM