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A theory-based online health behaviour intervention for new university students (U@Uni:LifeGuide): results from a repeat randomized controlled trial
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-21, 06:01 authored by David Cameron, Tracy Epton, Paul Norman, Paschal Sheeran, Pete HarrisPete Harris, Thomas L Webb, Steven A Julious, Alan Brennan, Chloe Thomas, Andrea Petroczi, Declan Naughton, Iltaf Shah
Background This paper reports the results of a repeat trial assessing the effectiveness of an online theory-based intervention to promote healthy lifestyle behaviours in new university students. The original trial found that the intervention reduced the number of smokers at 6-month follow-up compared with the control condition, but had non-significant effects on the other targeted health behaviours. However, the original trial suffered from low levels of engagement, which the repeat trial sought to rectify. Methods Three weeks before staring university, all incoming undergraduate students at a large university in the UK were sent an email inviting them to participate in the study. After completing a baseline questionnaire, participants were randomly allocated to intervention or control conditions. The intervention consisted of a self-affirmation manipulation, health messages based on the theory of planned behaviour and implementation intention tasks. Participants were followed-up 1 and 6 months after starting university. The primary outcome measures were portions of fruit and vegetables consumed, physical activity levels, units of alcohol consumed and smoking status at 6-month follow-up. Results The study recruited 2,621 students (intervention n?=?1346, control n?=?1275), of whom 1495 completed at least one follow-up (intervention n?=?696, control n?=?799). Intention-to-treat analyses indicated that the intervention had a non-significant effect on the primary outcomes, although the effect of the intervention on fruit and vegetable intake was significant in the per-protocol analyses. Secondary analyses revealed that the intervention had significant effects on having smoked at university (self-report) and on a biochemical marker of alcohol use. Conclusions Despite successfully increasing levels of engagement, the intervention did not have a significant effect on the primary outcome measures. The relatively weak effects of the intervention, found in both the original and repeat trials, may be due to the focus on multiple versus single health behaviours. Future interventions targeting the health behaviour of new university students should therefore focus on single health behaviours.
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