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Southampton team evaluates young people’s health in South Africa

Southampton researchers have launched a new project in South Africa.

The research will assess young people’s physical and mental health.

Many aspects of our mental and physical health are set during our teenage years. Support at this age is vital to ensure future health and wellbeing.

Professors Shane Norris and Mary Barker from the University of Southampton are leading the Mind-Food-Space project. They are both researchers in the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre’s Nutrition, Lifestyle and Metabolism theme.

Building on previous research

Previous research has shown that we have the largest generation of young people in human history (1.8 billion). 10 to 24-year-olds now form 40 per cent of the world’s population.

Southampton researchers published a series of papers in the Lancet on adolescent nutrition in 2021. This explored how nutrition affects young people’s growth and development, and the influence of the food environment on their dietary choices.

The series also considered how best to promote healthy behaviours to this age group.

International partnerships

The researchers have partnered with the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

They will apply for further funding to extend the project to Ethiopia.

The team will assess depression, stress and anxiety, dietary intake, physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep in young people.

They will use several research methods. These include monitoring technology, mental health assessments and qualitative interviewing.

They will also assess the impact of household and community context.

‘An exciting opportunity’

Researchers hope the data will give valuable insight into the health and nutrition of young people. This can help develop new ways to see this age group thrive in challenging, urban poor settings in the UK and Africa.

Prof Barker is a Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Science. She said:

“This is an exciting opportunity to work with young people in low-resource settings. It will help us understand how they experience a combination of mental and physical health problems.

“On the back of this understanding, our partners and young people in South Africa and Ethiopia will develop new primary care services to address a large and unmet need for more health support.”


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