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Determinants of childhood and early adolescence sleep behaviours and risk of overweight and obesity

Project Description

Sleep is an involuntary behaviour, biologically fundamental to survival and wellbeing. In our current society, however, sleep is increasingly neglected with significant implications for health. Inadequate sleep has been associated with reduced cognitive function, increased risk of dementia, development of certain cancers and all-cause mortality. Recent research has also identified associations between sleep duration, quality, timing and risk of overweight and obesity in children and adults. Outside the field of health, sleep is also an important determinant of educational and social outcomes, thus, sleep has become an intervention target in childhood and adolescence. In order to develop best practice interventions to alter sleep and improve sleep related outcomes, a better understanding of the determinants of sleep is warranted.

Early adolescence is a time of many transitions and young people often adopt behaviours (e.g. reduced physical activity, poor diet, smoking) that are associated with unhealthy consequences. To date, evidence has identified poor sleep in childhood leading to poor health outcomes, but less is known about the determinants of poorer sleep in the adolescent age group, especially targets for intervention. This studentship will employ quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate the modifiable behavioural, social and environmental determinants of sleep up to early adolescence (approximately 10-15 years olds) and the interactions between the identified determinants and risk of overweight and obesity, in order to inform the development of interventions.

The studentship will include the analysis of secondary data as well as primary data collection. The student will gain skills and experience in systematic evidence synthesis, epidemiology, secondary data analysis (longitudinal data), primary data collection including subjective and objective measures, qualitative methods, public involvement and intervention development.

This studentship will be supervised by Dr Andrew James Williams, Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Dr Jo Cecil, Lecturer in Behavioural Science from the Population and Behavioural Science Division of the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews. Dr Williams is an epidemiologist whose research focuses on the social and cultural determinants of positive child and adolescent health, especially obesity prevention. Dr Cecil’s research focuses on the bio-psychological controls of appetite, eating behaviour and obesity in children and adults. Population and Behavioural Science research in the School of Medicine is transforming the prevention, early detection and management of illness as well as health promotion and communication locally, nationally and globally. We are a multidisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in health data science, epidemiology, trials and the design, delivery, and evaluation of theory-based psychological interventions. We work in the primary care and community health domains, with specific interests in addiction medicine, child and adolescent health, long-term conditions, and health behaviours. We are committed to public and patient involvement throughout our research and host the Fife Community Patient Council who help guide the delivery and understanding of our research.

Further information on the School of Medicine’s research activities can be found on the School of Medicine website

The candidate should possess skills in research methods, communication and scientific writing as well as the ability to work and learn from colleagues based in multiple disciplines. The candidate should have an interest and enthusiasm for the topic and methods of the studentship. Applicants for this project must have an Undergraduate degree (1st class Honours or 2:1) or Masters degree, or equivalent, in a relevant discipline e.g. public health, psychology, health psychology, child development, epidemiology.

Start date
September 2020

How to apply
Applications should be submitted via the University application system at

For further details on the project or informal enquiries please contact Dr Andrew James Williams () or Dr Jo Cecil ().

Funding Notes

This is a 3 year funded PhD studentships comprising of tuition fees and stipend at current research council rates.

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