Overview: The Southampton Initiative for Health was a complex public health intervention developed to address inequalities in diet and lifestyle in disadvantaged women of childbearing age. It was designed in collaboration with Southampton City Council and Southampton Primary Care Trust to assess an empowerment approach in improving the health behaviour of women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Objective: To evaluate the effects of a behaviour change intervention, designed to increase women’s sense of control, on the dietary quality and physical activity levels of women with young children.

Methods: The study was a before- and after- non-randomised controlled trial, with a process evaluation, set in Hampshire Children’s Sure Start Centres. Staff working in Centres in Southampton, were trained in ‘healthy conversation skills’ – a programme of skills designed by MRC LEU researchers to help practitioners support behaviour change in their clients. Staff practice was compared with that of untrained practitioners working in the control area of Gosport and Havant up to one year post-training. Sense of control, self-efficacy (indicators of personal empowerment), diet and physical activity outcomes for women attending Sure Start Children’s Centres in the intervention area were then compared with outcomes for women in the control area.

Research output and key findings in the last quinquennium: 8 published papers

  • A year after training, staff in the intervention area were using skills to support behaviour change significantly more than staff in the control area918
  • Although the intervention did not lead to improvements in dietary quality and physical activity among women in the intervention group, it had a protective effect on sense of control, an important intermediate factor within our conceptual model for the relationship between exposure to the intervention and change in diet and physical activity