Tackling childhood obesity

We have identified and fed back to UK audiences, initiatives which have successfully reduced levels of childhood obesity in Australia, Denmark, France and The Netherlands – as well as identifying that the mass production of healthier food is feasible, affordable and likely to be in the best long-term commercial interest of the UK food industry i.e. a potential Win-Win for both business and public health.

For example, some of our evidence on tackling childhood obesity was quoted by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee in its 2018 report ; and we were invited to speak about tackling childhood obesity at Food Matters Live (a major food industry event) in November 2018 and to take part in the first Food Matters Live podcast, in 2019.   

Health at Work

After extensive research we drafted an Employers Guide which has been well received among an initial sample of employers. Feedback received so far has included:

‘This document looks fantastic! The contents are comprehensive and the headings for each section are really succinct and strong’ (Director, international advertising agency)

‘This is a brilliant document. Content wise it’s really good!’ (HR Officer for an infrastructure development company)

‘Very clear and easy to read and covered all the necessary points’ (Employment law adviser) 

‘I thought the guide was really useful, and I'm definitely going to use this to benchmark what my organization has to offer’ (HR Adviser, beauty company)

Health Behaviour Change

Our most recent research here, published in 2018, focused on student health behaviour change, in partnership with King’s College London and Goldsmith’s University of London.

Previous studies had reported a range of unhealthy behaviour among university students freed from the constraints of family and school. However, our study suggested a different picture, with Generation Z more health conscious than its predecessors. 84% of students reported they had made changes to try to become healthier while at university. Reported levels of smoking and alcohol consumption were significantly lower than in previous studies, while a majority of respondents reported seeking to eat healthier food and exercise more while at university.

We compared our findings with the latest data on 18 – 24 year olds from the Office for National Statistics and NHS Digital and with media reports – and they were all pointing in the same direction. This suggests that universities have a significant opportunity to become Healthy Universities, in partnership with a more health conscious cohort of students.

Reducing student mental ill-health

While students may be physically more health conscious, there are concerns about rising levels of mental ill health. So, we have begun to build on our research into reducing the risks of mental ill health more generally, published in Perspectives in Public Health in May 2019. We are currently researching:

  • What factors are new (and might help explain the increase) and what aren’t?
  • Do more students have diagnosed mental health conditions or are more students self-reporting mental distress due (at least in part) to negative feelings and emotions being increasingly interpreted and reported as mental health issues?
  • Have most university students disclosing mental distress first experience symptoms AT university or do symptoms first start BEFORE they start university?
  • If symptoms first started before university, is this because of changes in our schools, changes in parenting, the influence of social media, or some other factor?
  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds may face particular challenges at university. Does this increase the risk of mental ill health or have challenges they have experienced earlier in life enhanced their resilience?
  • Can the risk of mental distress be reduced on more intensive courses, like medicine?
  • Female students are more likely to report mental distress. How important is gender and its possible interaction with other factors?
  • Should we be taking a developmental perspective? How far might reported student mental distress, at least in part, result from the experimentation and search for identity once seen as normal for this age group but possibly now interpreted more negatively?