Adolescents as agents of healthful change through scientific literacy development: A school-university partnership program in New Zealand Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Background: Scientific literacy development is widely emphasized as the overarching goal of science education. It encompasses development of understanding of the nature of science as well as knowledge, attitudes, and values that contribute to empowering adolescents to engage with and make evidence-based decisions about socioscientific issues. Scientific literacy development is enhanced when learning is contextualized in exploration of socioscientific issues.Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) associated with a combination of obesity and adverse environmental exposures are examples of pressing health-related SSIs facing the world today. Evidence emerging from the field of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) has identified adolescence as a key life-phase where population-wide education-based interventions that empower teens to engage in science-based health-promoting behaviors could significantly change the course of this epidemic. To achieve this, learning resources that support scientific and health literacy development contextualized in issues linking NCD risk and DOHaD are required.The Healthy Start to Life Education for Adolescents Project is a school-university partnership program designed to support scientific and health literacy development, knowledge translation, and participant-led actions relating to NCD risk prevention. This study assesses the impact of program participation in a cohort of 11-14-year-olds in New Zealand. Evaluation comprised analysis of individually matched questionnaires, pre-, 3 months, and 12 months post-intervention (n = 201) and 6 months post-intervention interviews (n = 40). Results: Positive engagement in science learning occurred. Positive changes in health-related awareness and attitudes 3 months post-intervention were sustained to 12 months. Adolescents reporting pre-intervention dietary behaviors associated with increased obesity risk reported sustained positive behavior changes (p < .001). Qualitative evidence revealed that these changes resulted from application of scientific and health literacy. This has the potential to improve long-term health outcomes for adolescents and their future offspring. Furthermore, feedback from parents demonstrated that adolescents became science communicators within their families. Conclusions: We demonstrated that contextualized learning promoting scientific and health literacy development facilitated knowledge translation. This allowed adolescents to decide if, and how, to use scientific evidence in relation to their current and future wellbeing. Exploration of the transferability of scientific and health literacy capabilities, and impacts on future health would enhance understanding of the value of the intervention.

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publication date

  • December 2017