A participative approach for health promotion in students

Not only since the COVID-pandemic have health issues arrived in the middle of society and are discussed controversially. Which diet keeps you healthy? Which measures are recommended? Researchers take a public stand on these questions and argue with scientific study results. But in the general population, little is known about how clinical research actually works.

In the Sparkling Science project “YOUhealTH”, scientists from the stroke research centre VASCage and from the Medical University of Innsbruck are now working together with Tyrolean schools to close this educational gap. As experts in clinical practice, they guide adolescents to conduct their own studies on health promotion, vascular health and lifestyle, while also learning from their own bodies.

Cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes already account for one third of all deaths worldwide and the rate is rising. One important cause is unfavourable exercise and dietary habits, which are mostly formed in the youth. Lifestyle change programmes have been unsuccessful, perhaps because young people have not been involved in their development so far. The YOUhealTH project therefore now takes a new participatory approach. Young people become clinical researchers themselves, develop their own health promotion concept and scientifically evaluate which measures really work in their age group.

Between 150 and 200 pupils from the 9th to 11th grades from six schools participate for about two school years. They are supported by the experts for educational cooperation at the klasse!forschung association.

The project begins with a basic workshop including nursing students from the University of Applied Sciences for Health who teach the students for example how to measure blood pressure. Then a "study group" investigates the vascular health of students and parents through examinations and surveys. Another group develops a concept that should lead to more exercise and a healthier diet. After one year, the "analysis group" then checks the results achieved on lifestyle and medical data such as blood lipid values.

The results and experiences are disseminated via social media, workshops, lectures, brochures and peer-to-peer education. In this way, Tyrolean young people become mediators of clinical research and "influencers" for vascular health in Tyrol and beyond.

(Photocredit © M. Knoflach/VASCage)