Eating and food are important to people and a relationship between nutrition, health and wellbeing has been well established. Work is a source of social contact and prestige, as well as providing economic opportunities to pursue healthy choices, while work cultures, schedules, and patterns have a major impact on our eating behaviours. My PhD study explores nutrition knowledge and behaviour amongst construction workers in the UK. This is of particular importance, given that approximately 7% of the UK workforce are employed in the construction industry, and also the high level of work-related ill health in this group. Additionally, in construction, long working hours, high pressure working environments, remote site locations and long commutes make healthy food choices challenging.
This project is the first UK study exploring the effectiveness of a workplace intervention on nutrition knowledge and behaviour amongst employees in the construction industry. For my PhD, which is supervised by Dr Margaret Coffey and Dr Anna Robins, I am designing, developing and evaluating a participatory nutrition intervention, with the purpose of improving the health and wellbeing of construction workers. The first (exploratory) phase of the project, informed the next phases, including the questionnaire development, and intervention design. Focus groups with construction workers and managers took place on three different sites exploring their nutritional practices and eating habits, as well as to identify barriers and facilitators to healthy nutritional choices in the workplace. I investigated perceptions of current health strategies and ways to facilitate healthy nutritional choices amongst construction workers.
These are some of the things that construction workers told me during my research, which illustrate some of the challenges of achieving a healthy diet for workers in this industry:
“They’ll pick up the fizzy drink or an energy drink. So you smash an energy drink, I’ve seen it on other sites, up the river, people don’t even have lunch sometimes, they’ll just have an energy drink just to get through the day, which, yes, that’s suits me but it’s just full of sugar, it’s absolutely packed”
“I’ll maybe go to the Grub’s Up van that comes around and get rice and chicken covered with cheese. It tastes good, but I know it’s slowly killing me”
“By the time I get home I really can’t be bothered cooking”
“If we’re in B&Bs, which several of us have been at various times over this project, there’s nowhere to store food, no fridges or microwaves”
Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) has been on the UK Governments agenda since Ofsted, the schools regulator, released a report in 2013 titled ‘Not Good Enough Yet: PSHE in schools’i. The report identified that RSE required improvement in a third of primary schools and half of secondary schools visited, with too much emphasis in secondary schools being placed on the mechanics of reproduction, and too little on relationships, the influence of pornography, emotions and understanding healthy sexual relationships. In response to this, the UK Government announced an amendment to the Children and Social Work bill to make RSE compulsory in all secondary schools for the first time, alongside the updating of the statutory teaching guidelines that schools must follow. Following a period of consultation with young people, parents, schools and public health organisations these new guidelines were revealed in 2019 and became compulsory from the 2020/2021 school year which is just now drawing to a close. However last month Ofsted released a rapid review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges that has once again brought Relationships and Sex Education to the forefront. The latest report gives a worrying insight into sexual harassment and assault between young people, and highlights that these issues are far more prevalent than adults may be aware, with girls disproportionately affected. Young people were asked if various types of harmful sexual behaviours happened ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes’ between people their age. 88% of girls and nearly 49% of boys identified that being sent explicit videos between people their age happened ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes’, meanwhile 80% of girls and 40% of boys expressed that being put under pressure to provide sexual images of themselves was common. The report also raised concerns of the taking and circulation of photographic or video content between young people without consent. In addition, 64% of girls and 24% of boys reported that unwanted touching happened ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes’ between people their age, 68% of girls and 27% of boys expressed that feeling pressured to do sexual things they did not want to happened ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes’, and sexual assault of any kind was noted by 70% of girls and 38% of boys.
Because of this, young people were not happy with the quality of RSE they received and frequently looked elsewhere, as the report states:
“Children and young people were rarely positive about the RSHE they had received. They felt that it was too little, too late and that the curriculum was not equipping them with the information and advice they needed to navigate the reality of their lives. Because of these gaps, they told us they turned to social media or their peers to educate each other, which understandably made some feel resentful. As one girl put it, ‘It shouldn’t be our responsibility to educate boys‘.”ii
This report raises significant concerns about RSE not serving the needs of young people, leaving teenagers unprepared for navigating the terrain of relationships and sex. In response to the report the PSHE association called regular RSE lessons vital, saying; ‘we don’t expect pupils to learn algebra or the Norman Conquest via assemblies or awareness days; why should we expect it with consent & respectful relationships?’iii.
Here at the University of Salford, my PhD research is investigating the role that social media RSE content on YouTube plays for young people in seeking and sharing information about relationships and sex. The focus is on understanding the role of the social media influencers who create this content, if they can act as health influencers and if the peer-sharing of this content between young people is a form of peer-education process. The Ofsted report findings suggest young people are already looking to social media and peers to fill voids in their education on sex and relationships, therefore this study provides a closer look at this phenomenon. Health information on YouTube is largely unregulated and in light of the misinformation epidemic on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic there is renewed need to interrogate sources of health information and understand how public health organisations can better partner with social media influencers to provide high-quality digital resources that meet the information needs of young people. Want to be a part of shaping this research?
We are currently recruiting young people aged 13-18 to give their opinions on Social media, influencers and how they seek and share RSE information through an anonymous short 10-minute online survey – the link to the survey is https://salford.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/digital-sre-survey
When I started the Public Health Masters programme, I knew that I was going to do my dissertation on a sexual health related issue. Working in sexual health for several years I knew there were a few issues that needed research. One such topic that concerned me was the low HIV screening uptake from women had taken priority. The issue seemed small because it had never been discussed during meetings or conferences that I had been to or watched, until I found a document that confirmed that women feel marginalised in HIV related care. The report was named ‘Invisible no longer’ and was authored by the Sophia Forum and Terrance Higgins Trust (2018). It helped me to brainstorm: (1) the aim of my dissertation; (2) how I wanted to collect the data; and (3) who I wanted to interview. During this time, I felt I won a quarter of the battle as I gradually searched for relevant details to eventually discuss with my supervisor.
A few months before any dissertation-related work was required, the lecturers organised a visit from Salford City Council public health to identify: (1) who has a project that may be helpful to them (2) provide a project or idea to those who did not have one. I liked the fact the lecturers were getting the class involved in work that could be used externally, as well as a chance to work with an organisation.
I remember being excited to start my project as I watched my idea develop over the weeks and months before even writing the first line of my literature review! My aim was to identify the barriers and facilitators of women testing for HIV outside of maternity services in the UK, since evidence demonstrated women were not screening for HIV as much as men, nor were they being offered the test as frequently. Witnessing the lack of HIV testing for women first hand, I had a feeling it could be a result of a mixture of things such as the lack of HIV health promotion for women or women having a low perception of HIV risk as well as stigma. I really wanted to collect evidence to understand why women had such a low testing uptake, but to get there I knew I needed to speak to women who were HIV positive and I knew that could be a challenge since women are rarely approached for HIV related research.
Understanding what I wanted to achieve was one thing but putting a project together was another! This is why a supervisor is very important. Your supervisor will help you to structure your project to maximise data collection as well as ideas and providing you with the necessary support you need. Don’t forget the library can help you with using journal databases so you can expand your search terms! I found that service incredibly helpful as I tried to focus on research from western countries.
Writing my dissertation started during COVID-19. Working on the frontline I now attempted to balance university work, home life (what was left of it) and work. It was incredibly hard and my headspace was all over the place. My supervisor and the university were incredibly supportive during this time and I am very thankful. As the first wave passed it was time to collect data and I ended up hitting a few hurdles for a number of reasons, but I had my supervisor to support me during this process and I was keen to understand the complexities of women testing for HIV kept me going.
Finishing the project I could not be more proud of myself, especially completing it in such an uncertain time! I never felt unsupported. Some of my classmates became friends and we supported each other. One thing I was ecstatic about is sending my report to the Sophia Forum and receiving feedback! That is rewarding in itself! In the end my project did not continue with Salford Council as COVID-19 erupted, but It did not stop me from sending my report to organisations who I felt who be interested to read my findings. I gained further feedback from them also, which ended up being submitted to an All Party Parliamentary Group HIV testing inquiry! Mega happy! Coming to the end of my blogging time, I want to say If you already have a project in mind in the early days of the course (1) brain dump as much things as possible (OneNote helped me to organise my brain chaos) and (2) gradually search for relevant things, at this stage you don’t have to worry about narrowing it down; just have an understanding of the topic, find out if it has been researched already and think about what your project could do differently (if it has previously been researched). Later on in the course you can discuss your project with your supervisor, where you can begin to narrow your ideas if necessary. Some things you may keep and others you may not, but what you have may form a framework for your dissertation, which can be half of the battle—well maybe a quarter of the battle! If you do not have a project I would recommend to find something that will keep your interest! There may be times when you do not want to write and it may sound cliché but my passion kept me going!
is my first time blogging and I hope that this piece helps others in their
journeys when starting their dissertation projects. At first, I had no
understanding of how big a task writing a dissertation was and how much it
would consume my life! From the research methods module, I knew that I wanted
to look into my own research area and I wanted to build upon a piece of work
that I had worked on from start to finish, so my dissertation journey started
from picking a topic area of interest and it ended with a report being
presented to Manchester City Council. A couple of weeks after submitting the
report to the council, I got an email from the council informing that my work
will be used in an upcoming Council guideline. I will be referenced in their
work, which I still to this day can’t believe is
From the start of the dissertation module, I buddied with up a course colleague, David Gilbert, and we set out a task schedule and went over all the tasks that we needed to complete for the dissertation. We had the same supervisor so that made it easier for us to bounce ideas off each other and work together, it was also great having someone who was working at the same pace as me. We had a lot of late nights in the library working on our individual projects, with delirium usually happening around 2 am in the morning. We would find ourselves arguing over who our supervisor’s favorite student was and shouting ‘noooooo more!!’ at our computer screens after receiving our feedback, which meant more work for us to do. (Helpful hint: if working in the library take snacks—we always got the munchies around midnight and that helped to fuel us on through the night and also there are food options that can be delivered to the library!!!.)
Onto the practical side of things, it was important for me to collaborate with one of the city councils, as they would help in providing resources and would also help in refining the topic area being researched. I approached Manchester City Council during the research proposal stage of my work and they offered to assist me in the dissertation project. My initial topic area of interest was shisha/waterpipe smoking in Manchester, however, the council had already completed a lot of work on waterpipe/shisha smoking and asked me to look at a new area that was under-researched. So my dissertation project changed direction, looking at tobacco use and smoking in new migrant communities. The council provided me with the resources to complete the research project, insofar as access to migrant communities that could take part in focus groups.
I jumped into the research side of things and started conducting focus groups with different migrant communities. I had given myself a month to collect data and then planned to analyse the data, however, the council asked for more out of the project, they wanted to look at the project from different points of view, so that they could have a complete overview of tobacco use in Manchester. Interviews with primary care professionals were added to the project. I approached primary care professionals that the council recommended, as well as primary care professionals I knew through my work as an Operating Department Practitioner. I used all the contacts available to me in order to make my research project successful. However, adding another aspect to the dissertation project was the greatest challenge as it meant that the project changed from being one dimensional to being a triangulated research project. This meant analysing data from different perspectives and also meant further ethical approval was needed for the interviews, adding more layers to an already complex project.
terms of findings from the research, I found that alternative tobacco products
were popular in new migrant communities, many migrants were using different
tobacco products including shisha/waterpipes, and heated tobacco units. These
products were becoming more popular due to the flavours on offer and also their
price points. However, the research indicated that cigarettes were
still the most prominent form of tobacco being used within new migrant
communities, although migrants were finding ways to get cheaper cigarettes,
thus were importing cigarettes from their home countries or were buying
cheaper/counterfeit cigarettes from certain supermarkets or corner shops.
There were no
services specifically for new migrants, and a lack of data collection on new
migrants makes it difficult to track their needs. Gaps in the research
were presented clearly and I also included recommendations and conclusions in
the report, which the council could implement in the future.
I still can’t
believe that this was the outcome of my work, to be referenced in an important
guideline for the council that I was collaborating with. Getting the email to
say that my work was being used was completely unexpected, but this meant that
all the late nights and library visits were totally worth it…
The one thing that I would recommend to
future students is to work systematically, plan everything from data collection
to data analysis, timetable your plans and make lists. (Lists are super
important in detailing everyday details, the guys on my course used to make fun
of my list making, but they do work!)
As cliché as it sounds, doing a dissertation is a real journey, and it presents a lot of challenges along the way, but the key is perseverance and hard work. I enjoyed every aspect of it, from the data collection to the analysis to write up. Even if it meant sleepless nights and no social life for a few months, it is totally worth it! Even now, as I’m writing this, I am now thinking I want to do more and work on other research areas.
(As a side note, I also want to publicly thank the lecturers on this course, as without them none what I have achieved would have been possible without them and their input.)
Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is the range of conditions that can be caused by prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). People with FASD can have a wide range of physical and mental difficulties, especially with planning, attention, impulsivity, coordination, social communication, emotional arousal, and memory. These difficulties can impact daily living, school, work, social relationships, and long-term health and wellbeing. In the UK, it is estimated that at least 3%, and possibly up to 17% of the population would qualify for a diagnosis on the foetal alcohol spectrum, although the majority will never be diagnosed. FASD has been known about for several decades but does not yet receive appropriate attention in schools and universities, meaning that many doctors, teachers, social workers and other professionals are not trained to spot the signs of FASD. This can leave children and adults with FASD struggling with the academic and social demands of everyday life without the support they need. Unsupported, people with FASD are more likely to be excluded from school, lose their job, struggle with addictions, and be convicted of a crime. FASD is thought to be especially common in looked after and adopted children and care leavers. Many of these individuals also have histories of traumatic experiences such as abuse or neglect in early childhood, which are also known to lead to developmental difficulties similar to those seen in FASD.
I came to the University of Salford in 2015 to conduct research on the combined effects of PAE and childhood trauma. The project was offered as a funded PhD in partnership with the National FASD clinic in Surrey. I had just completed my degree in psychology and already had some experience in alcohol research, but like many others I had never heard of FASD. The first stage of the project was a thorough review of the published literature on FASD and trauma. I was surprised to see that very little research had been published on the combined effects of both exposures, only five studies in fact, but there did seem to be an interesting pattern of results emerging. Taken together, the studies suggested that children with both PAE and trauma were functionally similar to children with just PAE but tended to have more difficulties than children with just trauma. This suggests that, where children have both exposures, PAE is more likely to be the primary driving force behind those children’s difficulties. The published studies had tended to focus on speech, language and communication, but other areas of functioning still needed to be addressed. Therefore, during the next stage of the project I conducted studies into brain functioning, intelligence, working memory (the ability to hold and manipulate information in the short-term), inhibitory control (the ability to stop oneself from performing an action that feels natural), empathy (an understanding of the perspective and emotional state of other people) and behavioural difficulties in children with PAE, about half of whom also had a history of trauma. I was interested to see whether the children with both exposures had similar or more severe difficulties than the children with just PAE.
Since FASD is largely a hidden condition, I suspected that recruitment of participants would be challenging. Most of my participants were recruited via social media, especially online FASD support groups, which had been set up by families affected by FASD to provide mutual support and information. In order to access as many participants as possible, I used an anonymous online questionnaire to ask parents and carers about their children’s PAE, trauma, empathy and behavioural problems. The strategy worked, and 245 parents or carers completed the questionnaire, many more than I had expected. As well as UK respondents, many were from the United States and Canada, which reflected the populations of the online support groups. To make as much use as possible out of the participants, I invited the UK respondents to bring their children in for some further assessments. Many of the families lived outside of the Greater Manchester area where we are based, and I only had funding to offer £10 for travel expenses, but an amazing 25 families affected by FASD came into the university, some travelling hundreds of miles at their own expense to get here. In the lab, I used a brain-imaging technology called functional near infra-red spectroscopy (fnirs) to look at brain activity, a standard IQ test to measure intelligence, and puzzles to assess working memory and inhibitory control. Finally, I also conducted interviews with 12 parents and caregivers, to explore their experiences of raising a child or children with FASD.
The results of the questionnaire and lab studies between
them supported the findings of the literature review. Children with both PAE
and trauma had similar brain activity, intelligence, empathy, inhibitory
control, and working memory to children with just PAE. In terms of behavioural
difficulties, children with both exposures had a slight tendency to have more
severe conduct problems than children with just PAE, but their emotional
functioning was similar. The studies also showed that children with PAE have
high levels of childhood trauma, severe behavioural difficulties and poor
empathy compared to typically developing children, although intelligence,
working memory and inhibitory control were within the average range. In the interviews,
parents’ experiences were fairly consistent, and there was little difference
between the experiences of parents of children with and without trauma. I asked
parents about their children’s behavioural difficulties, which I expected would
be described as stress inducing. This was the case, although parents also
described many positive experiences. However, even though I didn’t specifically
ask, every family described some level of stress caused by dealing with service
providers. Doctors and other healthcare workers often didn’t understand and
were unable or reluctant to diagnose FASD. Adoption agencies and social workers
were accused of playing down the impact of PAE in order to secure a placement,
then leaving families to deal with FASD with no specific support or training.
Parents and children were offered services designed for trauma and attachment
issues, even when children had no history of trauma. There was a widespread
lack of understanding and lack of services designed to deal with FASD, and this
seemed to be the most stressful part of their experiences.
Taken together, the results of the published studies, questionnaires, lab studies and interviews show that children with both PAE and a history of trauma appear to function similarly to children with just PAE and tend to have more severe difficulties than children with just trauma. Therefore, the difficulties seen in children with both of these exposures seem to be primarily caused by PAE rather than childhood trauma. Based on these findings, my recommendation would be that children seen in care, school, or in a medical setting, who have both PAE and a history of trauma, should be thought of more as a child with FASD than a child with a history of trauma. The trauma absolutely should not be overlooked, as it will definitely have had an impact, but in terms of interventions, therapies and strategies, those designed specifically for FASD may be more effective than those designed for trauma. These conclusions have led to a new project; my colleagues and I are currently developing a parent training programme designed specifically for FASD issues, something which is currently missing in the UK. The full thesis is available in the University of Salford institutional repository.
My PhD journey started when I joined the University of
Salford in 2015. Before this I had completed a BSc in Sport & Exercise
Science and an MSc in Clinical Exercise Physiology, followed by several years
working as a researcher in the health technology industry. Along the way I had
also completed qualifications in gym instruction and exercise referral
instruction. Therefore, the planets aligned well when an opportunity arose to
complete a PhD about exercise referral schemes, combining research experience
with personal interests.
Exercise referral schemes are one of the most common
approaches to increasing physical activity levels in people with long term
conditions, providing access to individualised exercise programmes and support
from qualified exercise professionals. There are hundreds of these schemes
operating across the UK, illustrating their popularity as a method of physical
activity promotion. However, the evidence base underpinning the effectiveness
of these schemes to-date has been poor. The aim of my PhD was to contribute to
this evidence base, by evaluating Tameside’s “Live Active” exercise referral
Fortunately, the scope of my PhD was quite broad, meaning
that I could develop and practice a wide range of research skills. The majority
of my data was quantitative, some of which was secondary data collected by the
scheme, and some of which I collected using accelerometers. With so many different types of data, I found myself
conducting several types of statistical analyses, from simple to complex
statistical tests, several of which I was trying for the first time!
Fortunately, I was able to take a break from all of this quantitative data, by
conducting a qualitative study. This was the most enjoyable chapter for me, and
in the end, turned out to be a very important chapter, revealing findings that
were central to my final conclusions.
In March 2019 my PhD journey came to an end, when I successfully defended my thesis at the viva. Following this, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position as a senior research associate at the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Health inequalities were an important consideration in my thesis, and have always been an area of interest and motivation, so this is a fantastic opportunity to explore equality and human rights more broadly. I have no doubt that I would not be in this position, if it were not for the research and transferable skills that I developed throughout my PhD, with the help of my fantastic supervisors, Dr Margaret Coffey, Dr Anna Robins, and Prof Penny Cook. By the end of your PhD, you will have developed more skills than you may realise, some of which will be quite broad and highly valuable, and you must not forget this when planning your next steps after the PhD!
Of course, for myself, and many other students, the PhD
journey provided an opportunity to experience and practice more than just the
intricate details of research study. Throughout the three years I attended
several conferences, both home and abroad, sharing the findings of my research
through posters and oral presentations. I also met several other researchers at
these conferences, with the same research interests as myself. It has been
great to stay in touch with these people, to discuss our research, provide each
other with feedback, and some have been kind enough to invite me to collaborate
on their work in the future. It was also great to complete this PhD with a
partner organisation, Live Active, where I got to develop my stakeholder
engagement skills, and attempt to influence practice with my research findings!
The first transition for me was moving from my home country, Nigeria, to England to study – it was very daunting to begin with. The initial decision to come to England to study for a Masters was very different from the decision I made to stay to further my studies and start a PhD. When I came to England to study for my Masters, I wanted to gain further skills and knowledge – the decision was based on the challenge to get better academically, and in turn to inform my future career path. The decision to further my education and embark on a PhD was based on the skills and knowledge I had acquired during my Masters degree. The wide range of resources available to students to make learning convenient at the University of Salford was beyond expectations. As a postgraduate student, I had unlimited access to an extensive range of books, e-books, journal articles, and government publications to help me study, as well as request for articles that are not licensed to the University.
The major influence in deciding to apply for a PhD was based on the final semester of my Masters programme, when I conducted a research study for my dissertation. The research study examined the associations between sitting at work and mental wellbeing. I loved the idea of looking into a problem and trying to find out as much as I could about it, and looking into something that there was little previous research on. That’s the joy of being a researcher (although it is not always as simple as it sounds!).
The progression from a postgraduate taught degree to a postgraduate research degree is a big step in one’s education, because the doctorate degree is seen as the highest level of educational achievement. The move from a ‘regimented and structured’ life of a taught programme to the ‘unstructured’ life of a PhD can be scary. This is because the structure of deadlines and assignment submissions is no longer there – you have to carefully plan your own time and set your own targets. It can be quite overwhelming at times, sitting in an office every day of the week, rather than attending classes for two to four hours every day. I am in an office with other PhD students, many of whom are working in studies that are not related to my field – this can make the PhD journey lonely at times, but also interesting because I get to learn about things outside of my own area of research.
When I started my PhD, all of a sudden I was exposed to all these opportunities and changes. The PhD involves independent research and that means a lot of input from me as a researcher – like I said, it can be quite scary if you face it all alone. The University has provided various workshops and study skills sessions to help me adapt to the system, without feeling too overwhelmed! Also, there is an allocated staff member to stand in as a personal tutor to help discuss any issues that may affect one’s studies. I have made use of these resources and intend to keep making use of them. So far so good, it’s been an interesting journey and I hope it will get even better!
In the first year of Abolanle’s PhD, she has had the work from her Masters study accepted at the International Conference on Ambulatory Monitoring of Physical Activity and Movement (see poster), and has recently submitted work from her first PhD study to the International Society for Physical Activity and Health Congress.
Association between sitting at work and mental wellbeing
With its numerous and diverse cultures, Winston Churchill wrote “Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa” and went on to say “The Kingdom of Uganda is a fairy tale. The scenery is different, the climate is different and most of all, the people are different from anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa….what message I bring back…concentrate on Uganda”. Over one hundred years later this is still true, and Uganda, relatively untouched by tourism, retains a taste of Authentic Africa.
Children at a primary school in Kumi
The University of Salford has been working with charity Teams4U for over eight years. Recently, the University’s partnership with Teams4U has been developed to allow students to gain hands-on experience of delivering a public health intervention programme in rural Uganda, learning how to break down cultural barriers and to communicate with the people they serve in order to make the programme a success. Students on our BSc Public Health and Health Promotion course have the opportunity to take a subsidised ten day trip to Uganda (the student pays £200 towards the cost).
The Teams4U Uganda programme is the brainchild of honorary Salford graduate Dr Dave Cooke, who wondered if physical activity could help primary school children to achieve better results at school. Since it began, the programme has evolved and changed to tackle some of the underlying issues that lock communities in a cycle of poverty.
Small changes make a big difference
The experience of handing a football to a child that has never touched a ball is something that is difficult to describe. Before the programme began, children in rural primary schools in the Kumi district of Uganda didn’t have PE lessons; with class sizes at over 100 children per teacher, finding an activity that they could all take part in was difficult. To make matters worse, the budget for most schools is just £1.50 per child for the whole year, meaning they can’t afford basic sports equipment like footballs. Often the schools aren’t funded at all – the money just ‘disappears’.
Playing the team games with Teams4U
The concept of the programme is simple, but the impact on the children is profound – headteachers have even said they felt inspired to change the way they teach as a result. However, this is where students can get involved in vital research, as many questions still need answering: does the experience of the teachers of the programme change their attitudes to physical activity? Does the donation of balls for football, netball and other activities have an impact on physical activity and sports in the schools?
Breaking the cycle of poverty
The programme also revealed other barriers to education that children in the community face. While both girls and boys are often kept off school to help out at home or work in the fields, girls in particular are not always encouraged to attend school. To add to this, we found that a big problem keeping girls from school was the lack of feminine hygiene products and limited access to water, meaning that they were missing up to a quarter of their schooling.
Keen to break the cycle of poverty where children drop out of school, girls have babies very young and have large families that they can’t support, the team set up two separate programmes to tackle these issues. The first, ‘Develop with Dignity’, provides washable pads for girls to use, meaning they now feel comfortable going to school on their period. Secondly, we organised educational sessions with parents, children and community leaders to discuss the importance of staying in school.
Girls receiving washable menstrual pads and underwear
Again, research is needed to understand exactly how these interventions work: does the intervention increase school attendance, for girls in particular? Are parents and the community more aware of the importance of education?
Join a trip to Uganda
You can join in and help run the sports and Develop with Dignity programmes. If you come as part of the BSc Public Health and Health Promotion, you can also help us do research to evaluate the programme.
Our volunteers often find that while they go to Uganda with the intention of serving, they end up gaining more than they give: the experience of sharing time with children who get so much joy from the simple gift of your time and attention.
Find out more
Watch this video about the University of Salford’s public health and health promotion opportunities in Uganda
To find out more about the other public health and health promotion work that the University of Salford and Teams4U have carried out in Uganda, go to our related blog posts
A collaborative research project looks into health benefits of green infrastructure
The University of Salford is partnering with the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University on a £700,000 research project that looks into the benefits and values of green infrastructure on an ageing population.
Green infrastructure (GI), a term used in reference to green and blue spaces (areas of grass, and canals or waterways), has direct and indirect influences on human health and wellbeing. However access to such health and wellbeing benefits isn’t shared equally amongst the population, particularly for those based in urban areas. Additionally with people aged 65 and over more susceptible to environmental stressors, this age group in particular may also be the least likely to benefit from GI.
The ‘Green Infrastructure and the Health and Wellbeing Influences on an Ageing Population’ project (GHIA), which has been funded under the Valuing Nature Programme by NERC, ESRC and AHRC, intends to look into the relative benefits and stressors of GI and how GI should be valued in the context of the health and wellbeing of older people. This value might include the monetary value of preventing ill-health but also broader interpretations, such as the historical, heritage or wildlife value which influences whether older people actively seek experiences in green and blue spaces
The project will involve collaboration with Greater Manchester health organisations that specialise in improving the health and wellbeing of older people and the design and management of GI across GM – an example of the health ICZ. These organisations will include GM’s Red Rose Forest, Public Health Manchester, Manchester City Council and Manchester Arts and Galleries Partnership.
Penny Cook will be working with Philip James from the School of Environment and Life Sciences on Salford’s contribution to the GHIA project. Salford’s role will be to look for relationships between health outcomes, using hospital data, and the occurrence of green infrastructure across space. Researchers will work with the Salford Institute for Dementia to involve people with early-onset dementia to understand how they appreciate the urban landscape through different sensory perceptions.
Alcohol and pregnancy are a dangerous mix. The physical effects of alcohol on a developing foetus are well known and potentially devastating. It is known to impact physical development – causing stunted growth, craniofacial abnormalities, reduced head and brain size, sight and hearing problems, and limb and organ defects. Foetal alcohol exposure causes problems in cognitive and psychological functions such as learning, speech and language, memory, attention, inhibition, social cognition, planning, motor skills, attachment, and behaviour. The name given to the range of outcomes caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol is foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
Double jeopardy: adding childhood neglect
Children who are exposed to alcohol prenatally are also at risk of what has been described as a case of double jeopardy: they are much more likely to experience adverse environmental experiences during the first months and years of development. These experiences can include neglect of daily care, abandonment, and emotional, sexual and physical abuse. The effects of such experiences can compound the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, as they impact development in a similar way. Maltreatment such as neglect and abuse, especially if this is prolonged and lasts beyond the first six months of life, can have a significant impact on attachment, cognitive, psychological and social development and even physical growth.
By D Sharon Pruitt [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
To make matters worse, children who suffer maltreatment during early childhood miss out on normal attachment development. This can seriously impact their own parenting skills as adults, and lead to dysfunctional attachment behaviour if and when they become parents themselves. Those who suffer from foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are more likely to develop alcohol misuse issues, and are more likely to be involved in risky sexual behaviours. This can increase the risk of unplanned pregnancies, and so the cycle can be self-perpetuating.
Forthcoming research on FASD and neglect
The effects of a) prenatal alcohol exposure and b) early childhood maltreatment are well documented, but there is a surprising lack of research into their combined effects. My research will address this gap, first of all by conducting a systematic review into all published studies into the combined effects of prenatal alcohol exposure and early childhood maltreatment. I am currently writing up the results of this review for publication. It found only six articles on the subject, four of which used experimental methods to assess the impact of both issues. The main finding of these four articles is that speech and language deficits are more likely in children with both issues, compared to children with one or the other.
There are several other aspects of cognitive development that are yet to be addressed in this population, and so the next stage of my research will assess deficits in social cognition and executive function – two of the most prominent areas of deficit in children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders and in children with a history of maltreatment. I aim to study these deficits using a combination of caregiver reports and behavioural tasks conducted in a lab at the University of Salford. I am also planning to incorporate a measure of brain activity using functional near infra-red spectroscopy (fNIRS) – a non-invasive technology that uses light waves on the near infra-red spectrum to measure blood movement in the cerebral cortex – the outer layer of the brain. This technology is especially useful in samples of young children, and this will be the first time fNIRS will have been used in this population.
I am currently in the process of applying for ethical approval, and hope to begin data collection soon.