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Early LifeLab rolled out to help tackle childhood obesity

Southampton’s LifeLab education programme has been given a new boost to help tackle obesity among primary school children in the city.

The innovative programme has been awarded £200,000 by Southampton City Council to fund key work over the next three years.

New modules shift the focus from secondary school students to primary school years.

LifeLab is run in partnership between the University of Southampton, the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and University Hospital Southampton.

Teaching toolkits

The Early LifeLab programme aims to support behaviour change in children using a series of ‘teaching toolkits’.

These make the science behind the need for healthy diet, physical activity and sleep accessible to children. It helps them to discover why these matter for themselves, supporting children and their families in making healthy choices.

Professor Keith Godfrey, one of the LifeLab programme directors and a lead researcher in the NIHR Southampton BRC, said: “Childhood obesity in the UK is a major public health problem. In 2019/2020, nearly one in four children in the first year of primary school were overweight or obese. Over the course of the pandemic, levels of overweight and obesity in children have seen a sharp worsening, highlighting the need for new approaches.”

Pandemic effects

Dr Kath Woods-Townsend is the programme lead for Early LifeLab. She said: “Tackling obesity in children was already on our agenda at LifeLab pre COVID, but the pandemic and its effects have brought the issue even more to the fore.

“Based on our well established and successful LifeLab programme for secondary school students, Early LifeLab has four modules across the primary phase that are delivered directly in schools. We know this is an effective setting to reach a large population of children across all communities, and we provide the tools teachers need to deliver health messages in an engaging way.”

Building for the future

All primary phase settings in Southampton can opt to take part in Early LifeLab. Participating schools will receive a fully-resourced “flight case”, which contains all the equipment, resources and teaching information needed to deliver the lessons.

Debbie Chase, Director of Public Health at Southampton City Council, said: “The opportunity for children in the city to have access to the LifeLab resources is very much in line with our work in early health prevention and education messages. Programmes like this from LifeLab are essential in helping our community recover from the pandemic and build positive outcomes for the future.”

COVID-19 Warriors

LifeLab developed the successful COVID-19 Warriors programme in the height of the pandemic. This was supported by the Department of Health and Social Care.

In collaboration with primary school pupils, LifeLab created a team of ‘COVID-19 Health Warriors’ and produced a series of short educational videos. They created a community that children, on completion of the programme, could join.

The project was endorsed by the Royal Society for Public Health, who promoted it on their YouTube channel.

Civic commitment

The University of Southampton is committed to help and support communities in Southampton and the surrounding region. Its Widening Participation and Social Mobility team are contributing funding in addition to the Council.

Kirsten Wythe, Head of Access in the Widening Participation and Social Mobility team, said: “We are delighted to have been able to provide funding to support the development of the resources, and the work to transform the LifeLab COVID-19 Warriors into Health Warriors with video content to reinforce the messages. We are looking forward to being part of the project as it grows.”

Professor Mark E. Smith, President and Vice-Chancellor, said: “We are delighted to be leading this collaborative activity to overcome the challenges facing young children in local communities across Southampton. The University’s research, education, alumni and outlook are global, but we are rooted in our community and committed to forming closer links with local people and organisations.”

Professor Jane Falkingham, Vice-President International & Engagement of the University of Southampton, added: “The University has played important local and national roles in supporting communities through the pandemic. Working with young people to support the city’s recovery from the pandemic will be critical in helping local communities thrive and we are delighted to be working with Southampton City Council on this important initiative.”


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