The University of Southampton


Doing your bit for climate change

LifeLab has been involved in a new engagement project with colleagues from across the University of Southampton.

Dr Mark Chapman from Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences and Dr Lucy Green from Human Development and Health based at the Institute of Developmental Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine have teamed up with LifeLab to create a hands-on research project for teenagers, with funding from the Public Engagement with Research unit (PERu) at the University of Southampton.

Using the same self-discovery approach that has underpinned the success of LifeLab, the new project is aimed at giving students the space and resources to understand for themselves what impact their health choices could have on climate change. As part of the project Dr Kathryn Woods-Townsend and Claire Colbain, LifeLab’s technical lead, have developed an escape room style activity that aims to engage young people and enhance their learning through a series of tasks and challenges. This activity is being developed for public engagement events. After completing the event, participants have the opportunity to take away action cards that suggests how a small change in behaviour can add up to a big impact. Here are some examples below:


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Professor John Holloway on the value of Meet the Scientist sessions

A new phase of the LifeLab story has begun with our first students taking part in the EACH-B research project.

Hampshire students were the first to download a new smart phone app that has been developed as part of EACH-B,  the latest research phase of the LifeLab intervention.

The health education project is based on young people discovering for themselves how their lifestyle choices can affect them and EACH-B is building on that with the use of the app, along with young people being supported by teachers in school.

A popular part of the LifeLab experience continues to be the Meet the Scientist sessions where researchers from across the UHS and University of Southampton communities showcase their work.

Along with inspiring the students, the opportunity is hugely rewarding for our volunteers who get the chance to present their work to a new audience.

Professor John Holloway said of his experience: “The opportunity to take part in Meet the Scientist sessions has been incredibly valuable for me. There is nothing like having to explain your work to a group of enthusiastic teenagers for making you think about how to engage an audience.

“I would encourage all faculty researchers to participate in this scheme. It is a great way to illustrate your commitment to public engagement that research funders expect.”

Talking about the impact the sessions had on him, John said: “It reminds me about the sense of enthusiasm I had and what attracted me to do science in the first place.”

Other volunteers have spoken of how the sessions have made them look at their research in a new light and how they were the first stepping stone to a more confident approach to public engagement.

If you would like to volunteer email Find out more about the impact the sessions have had on volunteers here.


First download of EACH-B app as students take part in the new project

The LifeLab team were excited to begin their brand new research study this week with the first cohort of students taking part in the Engaging Adolescents in Change Behaviour (EACH-B) programme.

The health education project is based on young people discovering for themselves how their lifestyle choices can affect them. The EACH-B project builds on the intervention, combining it with support from teachers and the use of a specially developed smart phone app with game features.

Students from Hamble School were among the first to experience the new intervention being led by Professor Mary Barker, a psychologist and director at LifeLab who specialises in the development and evaluation of behaviour change interventions designed to improve diet, physical activity and well-being.

The EACH-B project is built on the existing LifeLab programme which aims to help young people understand how the decisions they make now could have health implications in later life.

Teenagers who visited LifeLab, which is based at University Hospital Southampton, helped produce the digital game, alongside health researchers and scientists.

Those ideas were then sent to in-game designers at Glasgow Caledonian University who created it and then tested on LifeLab students.

The aim is to educate young people about the impact their lifestyle choices will have on their health and the health of their future children and encourage them to improve their diet and exercise habits.

The £2.2m EACH-B project, led by the University of Southampton, is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme.



Strengthening our ties with our international research family

Empowering young people to make positive changes for their own lives and those of their future children is never a vision that could be confined by

Welcoming international visitors to see and feel LifeLab’s impact and showcasing our work to the world, most recently at the DOHaD conference, has meant the project has continued to grow and develop; using the best of the other practices we see and sharing our own learning and knowledge.

It seems almost fitting then that on the day Britain bows out of the European Union, we are striving to make our links with our international community that much stronger.

Today two colleagues from Barcelona’s Ramon Llull University are sitting in on a professional development day that we are hosting for our new research trial EACH-B to learn more about how we are engaging and supporting young people in behaviour change.

They are here as part of an exciting new venture as LifeLab prepares to go international by collaborating on a project to develop LifeLab Community Networked Schools.

Led, in the UK, by Associate Professor Chris Downey from Southampton Education School at the University of Southampton, a bid is being prepared to fund this new project which will cement our outward-looking vision to improve health for all.

The project will take advantage of the know-how and experience we have amassed with more than 10 years of experience of promoting the well-being of young people in the UK. Consortium partners from universities and schools involved in the project from centres in Europe will work with local organisations that are relevant for the promotion of health and science education.

This project is rooted in the power of social capital, which is fundamentally the willingness of people to help each other

If funded, the project would engage with school leaders to explore opportunities to open their schools to wider community resources and learning opportunities and promote community social capital. In short, using the links that schools already have in their communities to build trusted networks through which work around lifestyle changes and healthy behaviours could be shared and supported.

This project builds partnerships across countries to develop and implement the activities. Headed up by our partners in Spain, the partnerships are already well established as a result of the pre-existing NetEduProject, a global group of researchers seeking to support school leaders in understanding the potential of the social capital within and around their schools.

For our part, LifeLab would work with schools in Southampton, exploring the community networks that we could develop to increase understanding around the value of changing behaviours to lead healthier lives.

Chris said: “We are excited by this opportunity to link the work of NetEdu and LifeLab through developing the Community Networked Schools project. The collaboration with our partners in Barcelona, and their work on social capital in schools and in health education, has revealed a wealth of common opportunities and challenges for us to explore in our work.”

Although plans are still to be finalised and the bid has yet to be submitted to European funders, we felt today was the right time to share these plans which, far from breaking away from our European family, shows our commitment and excitement at deepening those ties.

Escaping climate change – students get hands on with environmental challenges

Getting ‘hands on’ with climate change was the aim of LifeLab’s latest activity in a new cross-faculty venture with colleagues from the University of Southampton.

Following on from the launch of a new outreach experience that examines climate change and heath, LifeLab educators have developed an ‘escape room’ style activity for the Thornden School students involved in the project.

The ‘Escape Climate Change’ session which was hosted at the Winchester Road school in Chandler’s Ford, saw groups of young people tackle a series of challenges all linked to the climate change theme.

Using issues that campaigner Greta Thunberg has highlighted as the biggest threats facing our planet, the students got hands on with scientific challenges including chemical reactions, coding using the periodic table and UV lighting to reveal clues and unlock answers.

The tasks were related to Greta’s speech in 2019 which highlighted the biggest threats to the planet including erosion of top soil, deforestation, acidification of oceans, toxic air pollution and the loss of insects and wildlife.

Building on the approach of allowing young people to discover knowledge for themselves, LifeLab educators devised the hands-on activity using inspiration from Liz Allaway from Cancer Research UK and Dr Ran Peleg from the University of Southampton who have developed their own escape-room style engagement activities.

LifeLab programme lead Dr Kathryn Woods-Townsend said: “We wanted to use the same approach that LifeLab has been built on – giving young people the space and support to discover things for themselves and make their own decisions based on that discovery.

“This new outreach programme has given us another opportunity to reach young people in this way by looking at what impact climate change can have on our health and allowing young people to take the lead in discovering what changes they can make in their own lives.

“We owe a big thank you Liz and Ran who kindly demonstrated their escape room engagement activities as it was from that we were able to develop our own activity based on the climate change theme.”

The session was well received by Thornden students who are taking part in the brand new outreach project run by Dr Mark Chapman from Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences and Dr Lucy Green from Human Development and Health based at the Institute of Developmental Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine. The work has been funded through the Public Engagement with Research unit (PERu) at the University of Southampton.

The students will now plan and carry out their own experiments linked to what they have learned so far and what they now want to discover around the impact that climate change can have on our environment and health.

Science teacher Nicky Wood said: “The students loved the ‘escape room’ style format and were really engaged in cracking the codes and performing the scientific tasks to release the clues.
“It was such an imaginative and hands-on way of communicating some of the messages behind the subject of climate change and as a result will undoubtedly have a lasting impression on the young people who took part. They now have plenty of inspiration to start planning their own experiments.
“This whole experience will enable them to become confident peer educators around what actions we can all take to make better choices for not only our own health, but the future health of the planet.”

After the session, a parent of one of the students said: “My son loved today’s session and particularly enjoyed the escape room exercise. He cannot wait for the plant experiment.”

For more information about the new engagement activity, read more about the climate change collaboration project launch in our blog.


Students’ photos provide food for thought

A group of New Forest teenagers has produced a photographic study to support an exciting new programme that aims to help young people live more healthily.

The six students from The Arnewood School in New Milton were supporting a research programme called EACH-B – Engaging Adolescents in Changing Behaviour, run by the University of Southampton.

Students from The Arnewood School have produced a photographic study supporting a research programme run by the University of Southampton. They worked alongside fine art photographer Annabel Foot (pictured)..
Students from The Arnewood School have produced a photographic study supporting a research programme run by the University of Southampton. They worked alongside fine art photographer Annabel Foot (pictured).

Working alongside fine art photographer Annabel Foot, the youngsters spent several weeks using their smartphones to capture young people’s views on food, exercise and health.

The culmination of their studies is now on display at the Forest Arts Centre in New Milton.

Professor Mary Barker, who leads the EACH-B project, said: “The young people’s images give a brilliant insight into the world of young people and how they think.

“They took and selected the photos they wanted us to see, and so created their own messages about eating and exercising. We are delighted that they were prepared to share these images with us.”

As well as being showcased in a photographic exhibition, the Arnewood students’ work also features in a book called ‘Waving Through a Window’. The photographic project, which has been funded by a grant from the Wessex Clinical Research Network, is linked to the EACH-B intervention programme. The programme has also involved young people in the development of an interactive smartphone game which is aimed at supporting teenagers to eat better and exercise more.

EACH-B is funded by the NIHR and run by the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit and NIHR Biomedical Research Unit at the University of Southampton.

Nigel Pressnell, Headteacher at The Arnewood School, said “This was a challenging project over a number of months and I am very grateful to Dr Foot, the University of Southampton, and Forest Arts for choosing to work with Arnewood students.

Students at the exhibition launch with Prof Mary Barker, Dr Annabel Foot and Prof Hazel Inskip
Students at the exhibition launch with Prof Mary Barker, Dr Annabel Foot and Prof Hazel Inskip

“The students threw themselves into producing wonderful images and the resulting book and exhibition are very much to the team’s credit. I can see this being the start of a promising career in media for some of them.”

Schools in Southampton are currently being recruited to the EACH-B project. To find out more visit

The Arnewood students’ exhibition runs at the Forest Arts Centre, Old Milton Road, New Milton from 9 January to 8 February 2020. Visit the website here


Can our own health choices impact climate change? Students tackle the big issues in brand new collaboration

Climate change is a subject never far from the media spotlight. Whether it is debating the impact of rising sea levels, fears over the effects of increasing pollution levels or the growing pressure to produce more crops for a population increasing in size at an extraordinary rate– climate change is front and centre of public interest.  But what effect it having on our health?

Over the past two weeks world leaders at the UN-led COP25 talks have struggled to agree on a range of climate pledges that countries will be required to deliver on by the end of next year. So is it time we took more responsibility as individuals to examine how our own decisions can effect climate change?

It is a circular problem. For example, climate change is destroying the planet, but how does it affect our health? How much do we really know about how our own health choices can impact the health of the planet? Are world-wide solutions the only answer or can we all make different choices around our diet and lifestyle that could add up to big changes?

Making the connection between those headline-grabbing news stories and how our own health choices can play a part in the solution is the basis of a new outreach project based at the University of Southampton.climate_greenhouse1

Dr Mark Chapman from Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences and Dr Lucy Green from Human Development and Health based at the Institute of Developmental Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine have teamed up with LifeLab to create a hands-on research project for teenagers, with funding from the Public Engagement with Research unit (PERu) at the University of Southampton.

Using the same self-discovery approach that has underpinned the success of LifeLab, the new project is aimed at giving students the space and resources to understand for themselves what impact their health choices could have on climate change.  And growing plants is at the heart of the project

.climate_teacher1 climate_workshop2 climate_workshop5 climate_workshop4

A group of year 9 students from Thornden School have become the first to try out this new project that saw them invited into the Highfield Campus to tour the state-of-the-art growth rooms and greenhouse facility and take part in workshops examining links between climate change, crops and individual health.

The aim is to support them in making the connection between the environment and their own health choices. They held discussions around the scale of deforestation, plant-based diets, the effect of environmental toxins and climate change on their health, and whether growing more of our own food instead of relying on transported imported products could have an impact.

“I was surprised how much the students knew about climate change,” said Mark after the event, “It was very rewarding to see them ‘join the dots’ between climate change, feeding a growing population, and how this could affect their health”

Dr Mark Chapman, third from left, Dr Lucy Green, middle
Dr Mark Chapman, third from left, Dr Lucy Green, middle

Lucy added: “We know from our science days and recent ‘Toxic!’ question  time  event  at the University that involving young people in the science, and supporting them in discussing and asking the tricky questions about these big environmental issues, could really affect their actions in relation to the environment and their own health choices.”

The session was also used to plan plant-growing experiments, testing how temperature, salt and light could have an effect on crops. A follow-up visit is planned by the project leaders to check on the progress of the plant experiments which will be transferred to growing towers that can support the development of plants all year round using a hydroponic system. This will examine whether a stress in early life of the crop will have a lasting effect throughout the plants’ life cycle.

The growing towers are a new feature of the LifeLab project which aims to help young people discover the science behind health messages and is based at the University Hospital Southampton within Southampton Education School in the University of Southampton Faculty of Social Sciences and Biomedical Research Centre.

Thornden student Ewan said he had been inspired by the first session.

The year 9 student said: “I thought it was a great session as it was a chance to talk about the major factors that affect climate change, and also the effect we can have on the environment.

Thornden students after their first session
Thornden students after their first session

“Coming into the University was a great opportunity especially seeing the experiments that go on in the greenhouses. It was a great experience and a chance to discuss the subject of climate change which we hear about in the media but which I don’t think we get to really talk about enough.”

LifeLab does DOHaD 2019

Day four

And it’s a wrap! Great way to sign off a fabulous congress with plenty more food for thought thanks to some wonderful speakers. We started the day with a really interesting symposia on Early Life Origins of Mental Health and Well Being, chaired by our very own Prof. Mary Barker with co-chair Sofia Strommer. Presentations covered research that included Craig Olsson from Deakin University highlighting the need for further early life course monitoring and Kimberly Thomson from the University of British Columbia highlighting the need for more research into paternal links.image0-3

After lunch Jacquie Bay, Liggins Institute, Auckland, New Zealand chaired a symposia on Adolescence as a Critical Window for DOHaD. We heard once again from speaker George Patton who highlighted the importance of investing research into this critical phase in development and Rae-Chi Huang who discussed the importance of adolescence in influencing health trajectories. Lauren Hougton gave us plenty of food for thought by summarising how by optimising adolescent diet and nutrition we have the potential to deliver triple benefits of increasing the health capital of the adolescents themselves, protection from future disease and improving the development and health of the next generation
Fascinating presentation on the TALENT project also acknowledged the work carried out by Polly Hardy-Johnson – long time supporter of LifeLab.

In the final closing awards ceremony, Kent Thornburg from Oregon Health and Science University gave the  David Barker Medal Lecture highlighting the work he had carried out with David in Portland Oregon and how he met his daughter – the aforementioned Mary Barker!
It truly was a memorable and thought provoking four days to which LifeLab not only made a real contribution, but also took plenty from. Goodbye Melbourne, you’ve been inspirational. Now to look forward to Vancouver, Canada 2021!
Did you catch our posters? Have a look at what we showcased at DOHaD 2019 here:

Day three

It was a day of presentations and posters today @DOHaD2019. Sadly, our fabulous Early LifeLab lead

Dr Hannah Davey was poorly so could not take to the stage to give her presentation on the module of LifeLab that is aimed at the primary phase. So off the subs’ bench came Dr Kathryn Woods-Townsend to stand in as a very able replacement.

Kathryn Woods-Townsend outlines the Early LifeLab project
Kathryn Woods-Townsend outlines the Early LifeLab project

We got a great response on social media for the presentation which included a video featuring Hannah, so she did get to make an appearance on stage of sorts – we wish her a speedy recovery!

Day three was also full of more presentations and posters. There were plenty of studies and research to soak up including a really interesting challenge to delegates to consider investigating paternal factors in lifelong health, asking whether all the DOHaD research on maternal factors (over 140 papers in 2019) could be contributing to ‘mother blame game’. Lucy Green based at the Institute of Developmental Sciences at Southampton talked about how the UK government has started to take notice of public opinion – in the form of Boaty McBoatface (and Brexit) – and how the ‘Greta factor’ has inspired the young voice to be heard and how we might capitalise on that.

We also has our own posters to showcase, outlining our own impact through our projects in Southampton – including the Young Health Champions, for which we were recently named a Centre of Excellence by the Royal Society for Public Health.

You can see how proud we are of our work.

Pictured from top left clockwise are: teaching fellow Donna Lovelock, programme lead Dr Kathryn Woods-Townsend, Dr Sofia Strommer and teaching fellow Lisa Bagustimage11

You can find out more about our posters by visit the link below.

Strong delegation presents LifeLab at DOHaD 2019

Day two

Another full on day down under with plenty of inspiring people to hear from and engage with. Highlight for us was the panel session where we heard from a range of speakers all of whom struck a huge chord with the work we are doing at LifeLab; investing in young people, putting them at the centre of our work, not making decisions for them but with them and trusting that they can be the agents for change that the world needs.

We posted some of our best quotes on Twitter…

Day one 

Our first day at DOHaD2019 and we were straight into it! Successful workshops discussing DOHaD partnerships and knowledge translation with colleagues including Jacquie Bay from LEN Science. The afternoon was more showcasing of the fabulous work that happens in Southampton with both Dr Wendy Lawrence and Prof. Mary Barker from the University of Southampton talking about their healthy conversations work.

The day also saw presentations from our very own Dr Kathryn Woods-Townsend and Prof Mark Hanson – and that was all before the official opening ceremony! We are worn out but already looking forward to more of the same tomorrow. Catch all the highlights from today on our Twitter…..

Scroll Free September – our opportunity to evaluate how we use social media

As we reach the last day of a month-long campaign designed to reduce the amount of time we spend on social media, our latest blog asks whether appreciating its place in society is the starting point to a healthy relationship with it.

Today is the last day of the awareness campaign Scroll Free September that challenges people to reduce their use of social media. I wonder how many people actually did rest their thumbs from scrolling through various accounts for the past 30 days?

Hand on my heart, I struggled.

Of course the intention was there. I know I need to spend less time on my phone, I am aware of the impact on my mental health and I appreciate that constantly being a thumbprint recognition away from catching up on news from friends is not how I should be prioritising my life. But the fact is that the convenience of being able to connect with work, family and friends at any time of day makes it tricky to ditch the device completely.

It is not so much the fear of missing out; it is more about how we are communicating these days. The lines between work and home life become blurred when belonging to a WhatsApp group, the multiple clubs that the kids belong to typically use social media to update parents and on a professional front it’s vital I keep up with news from industry as part of my job.

Recognising that this is how we are increasingly ‘speaking’ to each other also makes it difficult to role model less time on our devices to our children. Like it or not social media has become a significant part of the communication landscape we live in.

Even if some of us didn’t manage to ditch the status updates for a whole month, the campaign did give people a chance to take stock of their use of social media and evaluate whether we need to consider boundaries and question how much time we are investing in it, versus contact with real people face to face.

It was an opportunity to have those conversations with ourselves and others about what a healthy relationship with social media looks like. Many suggest that where young people are concerned an outright ban on mobile phones, particularly in school is one way of cutting down their use. But is that really the right approach?

Like most things simply telling young people, or anyone for that matter, not to do something, often just provokes the exact opposite reaction. In the same way we can tell our children that eating fast foods and choosing sugary drinks over healthier options, we have to question what would happen when we aren’t there to give them that advice. If they don’t really understand for themselves why their health would benefit from a different choice then would they ever really make a sustained lifestyle change? The approach at LifeLab follows that concept, empowering young people to make healthy choices by allowing them to discover, investigate and come to their own conclusions.

Is this then how social media, and the use there-of, should also be tackled? By having healthy conversations that recognise its place in our lives and by modelling and discussing healthy habits and behaviours, can we not embrace social media as a means to effectively communicate with young people in an environment that is supported and appreciated by the rest of society?

Taking a holiday from social media is a way of resetting our relationship with it, but given its ability to influence and shape the world around us we need to appreciate its value in connecting and then tackling some of the issues we face particularly when the future is in the hands of generations to come.