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LifeLab supports young people in South Africa


Southampton’s LifeLab programme is being rolled out across the world to inspire healthier life choices.


The programme gives young people the knowledge and skills they need to improve their own health.


Its expansion comes as LifeLab celebrates hosting its 13,000th students at Southampton General Hospital.


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


Supporting young people


Southampton researchers are working with Dr Lisa Ware at the University of the Witwatersrand to launch a LifeLab programme in South Africa.


The project is funded by the South African National Research Foundation. It will focus on young people between 18 and 25 years old.


A previous study in South Africa found 80% of 18-25 year olds in low resource urban environments had low literacy scores. “Life stress” was also a common feature, which carries health risks.


The team has developed and implemented a LifeLab curriculum for people living in Soweto. They are assessing its impact with a view with to rolling it out more broadly.


Shane Norris, Professor of Global Health at UoS, is part of the Southampton team. He is also a researcher in the NIHR Southampton BRC’s Nutrition, Lifestyle and Metabolism theme. Prof Norris said:


“The early research emphasised the need for a community-based intervention like LifeLab in Soweto. We are really pleased with how the first curriculum has been received.


“It has helped young people in the area to understand the science behind health messages. This understanding is helping them engage with their own health, think about how to take responsibility for it and make improvements.”


Global partnerships


LifeLab programmes are also running in Dublin and Sydney.


Dr Kath Woods-Townsend is the Programme Manager. She said:


“We have found LifeLab resonates very strongly with young people no matter where they live.


“We have worked with our global partners to provide not only the physical LifeLab resources and programme structures, but also our experience with securing funding, engaging local health and political organisations and working with schools to enable their journey to deliver LifeLab to be as smooth as possible.


“It has been an educational process for us to see how LifeLab needs to be amended to fit different cultural contexts and curriculums.”


Reaching new milestones


LifeLab is a state-of-the-art teaching laboratory at the heart of Southampton General Hospital.

13,000 students have visited the lab since it opened its doors in 2014. The milestone attendee was from St Anne’s Catholic High School in Southampton.


“This is a remarkable milestone for us. It reiterates the importance of what we are trying to do,” said Dr Woods-Townsend.


“The LifeLab team create experiences that empower young people to understand the science behind the health messages they see and hear on a daily basis.”


LifeLab has engaged with over 90 schools across Southampton and Wessex. It offers programmes for both secondary and primary phase settings.


Primary phase settings in Southampton can take part in Early LifeLab. The programme is helping to tackle obesity among primary school children in the city through a series of ‘teaching toolkits’. These make the science behind the need for healthy diet, physical activity and sleep accessible to children.


Find out more at lifelabonline.org.

LifeLab Sydney students extract strawberry DNA. Image credit: LifeLab

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