Universities key to transforming Scotland’s health according to new study

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Improving relationships between Scotland’s universities and their local communities could help rid the nation of its reputation as the ‘sick man of Europe’ according to recent research.

A team at the University of Dundee say that improving public access to university facilities such as sports halls and libraries would encourage greater engagement with research capable of improving health and wellbeing.

The conclusions are taken from the Healthy Universities for Healthy Communities: Bridging the Divide study, produced by researchers from the University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences. The findings of the report are to be revealed in full at a public showcase in Dundee on Thursday 5 December.

Professor Judith Sixsmith, project co-lead, said: “Scotland faces many health challenges, but to help address these communication between the public and higher education needs to be two-way.

“Even though universities are public facing, for those who are not staff members or students they can be perceived as intimidating institutions. This has consequences when it comes to important issues like health and wellbeing, where research findings that may affect those in our communities can sometimes not be effectively communicated.

“We found that by engaging directly with local communities people said they would be more inclined to respond to the work universities do, including potentially relevant pieces of health research.”

Professor Judith Sixsmith Image Supplied

The Bridging the Divide study, funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, saw researchers host a series of workshops throughout Scotland, inviting community groups and members of the public to discuss how universities could improve how they share important public health research.

As well as revealing the study’s complete findings, Thursday’s event will also include a keynote speech from Dr Matt Dolf, Wellbeing Director at the University of British Columbia.

The findings of the Scottish Government’s latest Scottish Health Survey show that 65% of the nation’s adults are overweight or obese, while only 22% of adults consumed the recommended target of five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Just under a quarter of adults drink to a hazardous or harmful level, while smoking rates among adults have risen to 19%.

“Universities have a unique opportunity to be societal leaders in promoting positive public health messages,” added Professor Sixsmith.

“They should not be considered as ‘ivory towers’ and by improving the way we communicate and work together with our communities we can help to promote the valuable public health education and research being carried out by universities throughout Scotland.”

Tickets to Thursday’s showcase are available online.

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