Researchers look for help to refine online healthy lifestyle tool

Researchers at Swansea and Cardiff Universities are currently developing a web-based programme, funded with £442,492 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), aimed at helping individuals to lead healthier lifestyles.

Dr Katy Tapper, Professor Greg Maio, Professor Geoff Haddock and Dr Mike Lewis, have developed the four stage ‘Health Values’ programme to encourage people to eat more healthily – and the team are now looking for participants to take part in an evaluation study to find out whether it is effective.

Dr Katy Tapper from Swansea University’s College of Human and Health Sciences, said: “We’re looking for participants to take part in our evaluation study, so that we can check whether our programme is effective, and how it could be improved.

“Lifestyle has a major impact on health and well-being. A healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of wide range of different diseases as well as help prevent weight gain and obesity.

“We're interested in finding out whether some fairly brief tasks can help encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles. In this particular case, we're looking at these tasks in relation to healthy eating, though in the future we hope to extend this work to other health-related behaviours such as exercise and alcohol consumption.”

The programme consists of four main parts and is based on psychological principles that have been shown to help individuals change their behaviour. 

Although the programme hasn’t been designed as a weight-loss tool, the changes that it advocates are compatible with weight-loss goals – and the team hope that individuals trying to lose weight will find it helpful.

Dr Tapper said: “In part one we give participants some feedback about their diets, along with some general dietary advice. In part two, we ask them to think a bit more deeply about health related issues. Part three asks participants to make specific plans to change particular behaviours, and in part four we give participants the options to repeat tasks, work on more plans and view weekly tips.

“Our programme is different to others as it focuses on the psychology of behaviour change. In particular we're interested in the factors that might motivate us to change and the processes that can help us stick to our good intentions.

“It's important to us that the programme is evidenced-base so all the tasks we use have been shown to help individuals change their behaviour. These initial studies will help us determine whether these tasks are also effective when applied to dietary behaviours and delivered via the internet.  

“We'll be launching an online only version of the study in the Autumn. If the results of this initial research are promising we hope to further develop and refine the programme and eventually extend the work to a Smartphone app.”

Professor Greg Maio, Cardiff University’s School of Psychology added: "Whenever we try to change our own behaviour, it is natural for us to reflect on our aims and progress. But what is the role of such reflection in behaviour change? Is it helpful to think more about our aims and progress than we might do spontaneously? The Health Values study will help to tackle this question."

If you would like to take part in the research, please contact the team who would be happy to discuss the project further with you, on 07950 136663, or email: healthvalues@swansea.ac.uk.

For further information please contact Manon Llwyd, Swansea University Public Relations Office, Tel: 01792 513454, or email: m.llwyd@swansea.ac.uk