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Sporting Chance: testing the evolutionary determinants of health in inner city schools

  • Lead Applicant: Gustav Milne (UCL Institute of Archaeology)
  • Main Collaborator: Dr Benjamin Gardener Sood (UCL Epidemiology and Public Health)
  • Additional Collaborators:

Dr Matthew Pope UCL Institute of Archaeology

Jemima Stockton BSc MSc UCL Epidemiology & Public Health

Samir Singh Arsenal-in-the-Community team

Professor Christine Hawley Bartlett School of Architecture

Professor Graham Rook UCL Centre for Clinical Microbiology

Professor Kate Bowers UCL Dept of Security & Crime Science

This project requires collaboration between the Institute of Archaeology and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, as well our external partner, the Arsenal-in-the-Community (AITC) team. The latter run successful sports and educational programmes in inner-city schools in Camden, Islington and Hackney. We would like to reconfigure and extend their valuable work, through a pilot programme that builds on the Evolutionary Determinants of Health concept, which could have a major positive long-term impact on urban wellbeing in London. The AITC team wish to collaborate with UCL in developing this pilot project, which aims to enhance the wellbeing of children in some of London's most socioeconomically disadvantaged estates.

The grant would support preparation for a pilot project promoting positive behavioural change. With 21% of London’s primary school children classified by the NHS as obese, it is clear that more must be done to encourage healthy living. Together with the pressing need to change eating habits is the imperative to increase participation in physical activity, be it sport, dance or even regular walking. The link between obesity and the increase in risk of type 2 diabetes is clearly documented, as is an alarming rise in vitamin D deficiency, partially a result of modern cultural changes in which children spend less time out of doors.

The worrying research graphically illustrates the case for developing more effective nutritional and exercise regimes: the key concern is not just to oblige children to exercise while in class, but to encourage them to live healthier and less inactive lives after school. If these challenges are not addressed at this early stage, future demands on the NHS will be unsustainable.

Our project considers the challenge from the innovative perspective of the Evolutionary Determinants of Health. This research programme explores the premise that our brains and bodies are still essentially the same as those of our Palaeolithic ancestors who were adapted for a life revolving around particular diet and activity regimes, small-scale societies and close engagement with the natural world. Our current sedentary urban culture is markedly at variance with many of these deep-seated evolutionary imperatives but, armed with these evolutionary insights, we can now suggest behaviours that better integrate our ancient biological legacy with the daily demands of 21st-century urban life.

We wish to pilot these protocols through the project that this grant will enable us to develop, while promoting the work through the web site and an evaluation report. A paper will also be presented at a conference planned in collaboration with the Bartlett on “Town Planning & the Evolutionary Determinants of Urban Wellbeing”. This will cover associated themes considering urban greenspace, parks and playing fields together with pedestrianisation and cycling schemes. Our project thus uses our understanding of the past to challenge the present and change the future.

Page last modified on 16 apr 13 15:53