Getty image 157534299. World with a stethoscope. Research Festival 2021. 

How can personal behavioural change tackle global health challenges? 

This event took place on 28 June 2021.

The global population is on the rise, and so too are the rates of numerous health challenges. We have a greater understanding than ever before of human diseases and how to treat them, yet more improvement is needed for interventions that can prevent or mitigate health issues linked to obesity, diabetes and poor mental health.

Currently, no personalised intervention exists for tailored responses to health problems. Often, the origins of disease are complex and require diverse approaches to both prevention and treatment. There is also the question of sustainability; how will the world cope with the healthcare of larger, ageing populations?

The University of Plymouth conducts a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary research across health sciences to understand how lifestyle influences health. Our large body of researchers also design interventions for behaviour change that could effectively improve health on an individual and population level.

This event heard from leading experts on their innovative projects seeking to increase knowledge and develop meaningful interventions, from psychological approaches to novel technology. They shared how our research has a positive impact on those facing obesity, diabetes, poor mental health and other chronic diseases, both in the UK and across the world.

This event also sought to create connections between disciplines with complementary interests with a view to fostering potential future collaborations. 

Who was this event for?
This event was of most interest to those who research, study or work in sectors related to healthcare professions including: medicine; dentistry; health and social care; applied health professions; psychology; eHealth; physical health; primary care; dietetics; childhood health and development; mental health and wellbeing; public health. It was also relevant to those with an interest in coastal communities and the health implications of social deprivation.



09:00 | Welcome introduction: ‘Man must cease attributing his problems to this environment’ by Professor Jonathan Pinkney, Professor of Endocrinology and Diabetes and Honorary Consultant Physician in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Weight Management at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust

At a time when climate change jeopardises agricultural productivity, the demographics of health are changing with many humans living longer, populations expected to top 11 billion or more by 2100, and long-term health and social care costs meaning the sustainability of these improvements cannot be taken for granted. Jonathan will showcase a number of creative research projects at the University of Plymouth in this strategically important area of healthcare.

09:15 | ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are’ by Professor Jonathan Pinkney

The Earlybird study provides an opportunity to understand how excessive weight gain can adversely affect children’s development and health prospects. A major focus of the study has been investigating the childhood origins of diabetes, known as ‘prediabetes’, that reveals a good example of how genes and behaviour interact in the origin of diabetes, showing that behavioural intervention is appropriate for prevention. Discover the numerous novel findings that have resulted from the study and more on which interventions can be targeted to maintain the health of children.

09:30 | Group-based behavioural intervention in weight management by Dr Dawn Swancutt, PenARC Research Fellow

Growing obesity levels are a worldwide challenge and they are increasing year on year. In the NHS, specialist weight management services to support weight change intervention are seeing their waiting lists extended from weeks to years, further exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. Group-based behaviour change interventions have been recognised as offering many benefits to reduce waiting times and have specialists support more people, more effectively. Dawn shares more about our current research on group-based behaviour change for people with severe obesity.

09:45 | What does mental health have to do with health behaviour? Reciprocal effects that can’t be overlooked by Professor Adrian Taylor, Professor in Health Services Research

Those with poor mental health have up to 10 years shorter life expectancy, in part due to less healthy lifestyle, and this is more common in areas with higher social deprivation. Adrian was invited as a panel expert to develop evidence-informed exercise and depression Canadian toolkit to accompany national guidelines. He shares insight on how the guidelines go beyond simple prescriptions due to the complex situations of those with poor mental health, and about the efforts put in place in a University of Plymouth study to engage with communities who would not normally participate in research.

10:00 | One-to-one support for health by Dr Tom Thompson, Senior Research Fellow

Key modifiable behaviours like smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet and low physical activity levels are shown to cluster at higher levels among those of lower socio-economic status, effectively becoming one of the key drivers of increasing health inequalities. Support varies in intensity, is often siloed in approach and often doesn't appeal to or reach those who need it most. Tom presents approaches that have been developed for addressing multiple behaviours and how they interact and influence each other, what behavioural support looks like, the key mechanisms for change, as well as the implications for – and role of – wellbeing and mental health.

10:15 | Can good health be socially subscribed? By Dr Julian Elston, Senior Research Fellow in Integrated Care Evaluation and Consultant in Public Health

What is good health? Beyond physical activity, diet and regular GP check-ups, socioeconomic circumstances in which we live, work and play are perhaps less recognised. During the Covid pandemic we have seen greater recognition of the importance of family, friends and our community to our health and well-being. Social subscribing seeks to provide practical and coaching support to link people to social groups, resources and activities. Based on our research across the South West, Julian reflects on what impact social prescribing has on improving people’s well-being and mental health.

10:30 | Break

10:45 | The digital revolution for health by Dr Edward Meinert, Associate Professor of eHealth

Safety, efficacy and privacy protection are partially responsible for the slower adoption of digital technology in health and care. Though this is changing, particularly through significant advancements in the use of digital to deliver care since the pandemic began, there is still much to achieve in using digital technology to enable opportunities to augment clinical decision-making, artificial intelligence, treatment adherence, patient education and population health insights. Edward focuses on the research and industrial development of digital health for advancement in the 21st century, and the need for an interdisciplinary approach to deliver solutions that will lead to a new era of personalised and responsive care.

11:00 | Functional Imagery Training (FIT): a new intervention to support health behaviour change by Professor Jackie Andrade, Professor in Psychology

FIT is a new intervention for behaviour changes based on mental imagery and motivation, supporting people to sustain desire for change and confidence in carrying out new behaviours. Jackie explores how trials of FIT have shown key findings on supporting effective weight loss and its benefits for reducing anxiety and increasing resilience. Jackie argues that these findings support a holistic approach to target wellbeing rather than focusing on specific disorders in isolation.

11:15 | Concluding address – Keynote for 2073: Why did it take so long to act? By Professor Jonathan Pinkey

The great molecular revolution was a turning point in understanding human disease origins. However, most common chronic diseases were still caused by socioeconomic factors, health inequalities and human behavioural choices. Only after 2045’s civil unrest, when universal health and social care was no longer affordable in most developed countries, was there finally widespread implementation of the comprehensive policy package, the Coordinated Action for Healthy Behaviour. The papers in this week’s 250th anniversary edition of the Lancet celebrate the many achievements in improved health and longevity that have come about as a result of this action, and confirm the cost-effectiveness and sustainability of this approach to health.

11:30 | Discussion and Q&A

Your opportunity to have your questions answered by our speakers.

12:00 | Event conclusion

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