A health and wellbeing prototype for young people

Creating a health and wellbeing prototype for young people

The late adolescent and young adult years are a prime time to promote healthy behaviour and develop well being skills, particularly as young people transition from secondary school to post-school education, training or employment.

Entering post-school education requires young people to face multiple new challenges (eg, changes in living arrangements, academic environments, and family, friendship and social networks) while adapting to greater independence and responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

Although most young people negotiate this transition successfully, a significant proportion will experience short or long term physical or mental health problems, misuse alcohol or other substances, or be affected by social isolation.

Concurrently, there is also a high dropout rate for young people from their first year of university (ranging from 10% to 24%) at a significant cost to students, their families and higher education institutions (average cost of $36 million per institution per year).

Dropout rates have also been linked to groups of students who are perceived to be less prepared for the challenges of university 3 and those with emerging mental health difficulties.

The first year of post- school education is therefore a crucial time to provide young people with tools that may assist them to develop personal and social skills to manage their health and wellbeing and social connectedness. The overall goal is ongoing and productive participation in higher education.

Wellbeing and technology

Broadly, wellbeing can be viewed as a construct concerned with optimal experience and functioning. Optimal wellbeing can be considered to be in place when an individual has the physical, psychological and social resources to meet their needs and goals. Subjective wellbeing is associated with greater success in quality-of-life domains, including health, relationships and work.

Important determinants of wellbeing include good physical health (which has added benefits of reducing mortality risk, and improving mental health and other social outcomes) and higher levels of social connectedness. An increasing body of review evidence suggests that loneliness predicts higher rates of morbidity and mortality.

With advances in digital technology, and the near universal availability of smartphones, there is great opportunity for personal wellbeing apps and e- tools to provide support for multiple components of wellbeing — including physical, mental and social dimensions.

Recent research conducted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner 16 highlighted that 99% of young people have access to the internet; 86% of young people aged 14–17 years have a home internet connection; 88% of teen users went online more than once a day; 83% access the internet three or more times a day; 89% have a mobile phone (80% have a smartphone); and 65% use their mobile phone to access the internet.

Core features for inclusion in an online health and wellbeing system

Based on published research findings and commentary, several core features should be considered when developing an online health and wellbeing system for young people.

These include:

  • A rapid but comprehensive self-rating system that examines a range of health and wellbeing domains. By contrast, most existing systems focus on only one specific health dimension, such as weight loss or smoking cessation.
  • Specific goal-setting functions. To establish goals that effectively help an individual alter their behaviour, goals should be personally relevant, challenging but realistic and achievable, and sufficiently specific so that outcomes can be measured.
  • Real-time tracking of actions to achieve self-determined goals. As smartphones can be linked with powerful technology that can track and monitor geographic, personal and social information, sensor data can be used individually or triangulated to track user activities and wellbeing. Ideally, individuals would use aggregated behavioural data to improve their habits and behaviour. Behaviour change research has long demonstrated that the combination of goals plus feedback is more effective than goal setting alone.

Most existing systems, however, only focus on one of these features rather than providing a comprehensive and integrated system of support.

The objective of this study, therefore, was to co-design an online health and wellbeing system for young people that also included social connectedness, plus participation and engagement in post-school education.

To find out more, download our supplement ‘Fit Uni Life to thrive: an online health and wellbeing prototype for young people‘ from the peer-reviewed Medical Journal of Australia.