The Delta variant of COVID-19 was dominating news and lives in the second half of 2021 when the sixteen youth advisors of the Health Advisory Panel for Youth at the University of Sydney (HAPYUS) began meeting with WH&Y affiliate, Dr Stephanie Partridge. 

Across three online meetings, and an online conversation thread, the group discussed the issues currently affecting the wellbeing of young people in Australia. The group, which included WH&Y Commissioner Dominique R, arrived at a shortlist of risk factors:

  • the negative impacts of social media,
  • the pervasive influence of fast food marketing, and
  • the lack of opportunity for physical exercise.

In collaboration with Stephanie, the group produced an essay that was published in the latest issue of Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, featured in Croakey Health Media and the Sydney Morning Herald, and discussed on Australian breakfast television program, Sunrise. 

“It was fantastic to see our work being highlighted by such reputable media sources,” says Dominique. “Being published in the Lancet is such a huge milestone for us and I’m so glad youth-directed research is being supported by HAPYUS and the wonderful Stephanie Partridge! Media opportunities, like our article in the SMH and our interview on Sunrise, are a fantastic chance to highlight our work and some of the most pressing health concerns for young people today, and hopefully bring about change.”

Stephanie says she wasn’t expecting such a comprehensive response from the HAPYUS group.

“I initially anticipated the group would write about 200 words summarising the top issues to guide our work over the coming months. I didn’t expect a 2,000-word essay. It was brilliant and a wonderful surprise,” she says.

Stephanie, an Accredited Practising Dietitian and a Research Fellow at the Westmead Applied Research Centre at the University of Sydney, has spent many years investigating ways to improve nutrition and physical activity behaviours among young people, and is a strong advocate for youth engagement in health research. In a series of tweets on the day the essay was published, Stephanie called on political leaders to read the young people’s words, reminding them that it was ‘time to listen’ to what they had to say about their wellbeing, from the perspective of their own lived experiences. 

Like Stephanie, Dominique wants the nation’s decision-makers to start listening to young people.

“A lot of youth-related policy has historically been written without the consultation of young people,” she says. “I think it is so important to have youth voices inform youth-related policy and research, and we must not underestimate the power of direct consultation, active participation, and the diverse lived experiences of young people.”

In the Q&A below, Stephanie offers some insight to the HAPYUS project, and shares her thoughts on why and how researchers should be supported to include young people’s voices in their work. You can also catch up with her 2021 WH&Y webinar on Improving Diet and Preventing Obesity In A Digital World

Why do you think so little adolescent health research includes contributions from young people?
From my own experience, I can understand why it is so low. I have been working towards developing a youth advisory group for a few years, and I have come up against many barriers at all different levels. For example, researchers need time and resources to include young people in research, and it has been challenging to receive funding to support this research.

Why do you think youth engagement matters?
It makes sense that we include young people as collaborators in research that affects them. But we need to understand the best ways to engage young people. That requires research to understand the benefits of strategies like youth advisory groups for both the research and for young people. We are evaluating the HAPYUS program over 12-months to understand if participation increases confidence and leadership skills, among others. We will have results available to share later in 2022.

What were the challenges of working with young people to produce the Lancet essay?
For me, the biggest challenge was learning to be patient and letting the HAPYUS team take the lead writing the essay. As well, I had to adapt to different styles of collaborative work and I had to work around their schedules like exams and school holidays.

What were the benefits?
The biggest benefit is having their views and concerns published in the scientific literature. As well, it was amazing to see the recognition they received from researchers, their schools, community organisations, public health groups and the media. Due to COVID-19, we have been working on Zoom and the media engagement gave some members an opportunity to come together to meet in person. The mood was buzzing in the green room before the Sunrise interview – lots of laughter – it was wonderful to see connections being formed.

What did we learn from this work that we wouldn’t have learned if we hadn’t heard directly from young people?
I hope many people saw that when young people are well supported and provided with leadership opportunities, they can eloquently express their concerns and can make meaningful contributions to society.  

What would you say to other researchers who might be interested but uncertain about collaborating with young people?
It should be a two-way street. My experience working with HAPYUS members has been very rewarding, but it takes time and commitment. It is important to remember that young people participate in these opportunities to build their skills and knowledge, and to gain experience. I feel a strong sense of responsibility that young people benefit from these experiences.


About The Authors

  Doctor  

Dr Stephanie Partridge is an Early Career Researcher and Accredited Practising Dietitian. Her resear...

  Doctor  

Helen is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Exercise Scientist by training, and currently holds ...

   

Dominique R

Hello there! My name is Dominique, and I am 17 years old, currently in year 12. Once I graduate high...