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Understanding inequalities in physical activity, sedentary time, sleep and dietary behaviours and the associations with physical and mental health in young people

   School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

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  Dr Natalie Pearson, Dr E Haycraft  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Loughborough University is a top-ten rated university in England for research intensity (REF, 2014) and an outstanding 66% of the work of Loughborough’s academic staff who were eligible to be submitted to the REF was judged as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’, compared to a national average figure of 43%.

In choosing Loughborough for your research, you’ll work alongside academics who are leaders in their field. You will benefit from comprehensive support and guidance from our Doctoral College, including tailored careers advice, to help you succeed in your research and future career. Find out more.


Full-time: 3 years

Part-time: 6 years

Start dates: April 2022, July 2022, October 2022

Insufficient physical activity and sleep, high levels of sedentary time, and unhealthy dietary patterns are significant risk factors for multiple short- and long-term health outcomes in children and young people. For example, combinations of these behaviours have been linked with higher levels of obesity and poor mental health outcomes such as depressive symptoms and anxiety.

Both social and economic factors can impact health behaviours and associated and health behaviours, with those who live in disadvantage (e.g., those from lower income families, those from ethnic minority families) faring worse. For example, our own research in the UK has shown that children from lower income households have higher levels of screen-time and unhealthy eating.

Covid-19 has likely had a profound impact on the health and health behaviours of children and young people and their families. For example, there has been a large reduction in children being sufficiently active during the first Covid-19 lockdown (28.9%) compared to pre-pandemic (69.4%), and children from more deprived backgrounds and those from Black and Asian backgrounds were most impacted.

This research aims to examine differences in trends in behaviours and outcomes, and on the impact of different intervention approaches and strategies to reduce inequalities in physical activity, sedentary time, sleep, and dietary behaviours and improve health outcomes in children and young people. The research will be mixed methods. It will examine the inequalities in physical activity, sedentary time, sleep, and dietary behaviours and the associations with physical and mental health in young people pre covid. It will also utilise emerging evidence to examine the impact of covid on these inequalities.

The research will involve systematically reviewing the existing literature, accessing and analysing secondary data from UK cohort studies, and conducting and analysing qualitative interviews with young people and their families/carers.

The project aligns closely with Loughborough University’s Health and Wellbeing Global Challenge and the Sport and Exercise Research Beacon (priority area Children, Young People and Families). The application also aligns to the Lifestyle for Health and Wellbeing research theme in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences.


Primary supervisor: Dr Natalie Pearson

Secondary supervisor: Dr Emma Haycraft


Our entry requirements are listed using standard UK undergraduate degree classifications i.e. first-class honours, upper second-class honours and lower second-class honours.

Entry requirements for United Kingdom

Students who have achieved, or expect to achieve, at least a 2:1 in psychology, sport and exercise science, public health or a related discipline are eligible to apply. Having a relevant MSc is desirable.

English language requirements

Applicants must meet the minimum English language requirements. Further details are available on the International website.

Find out more about research degree funding


All applications should be made online. Under programme name, select 'Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences'. Please quote the advertised reference number SSEHS/NP/1 in your application. To avoid delays in processing your application please ensure that you submit the minimum supporting documents.

Apply now

Funding Notes

UK FEE: £4,500 - Full-time degree per annum
INTERNATIONAL FEE: £24,100 - Full-time degree per annum
Tuition fees cover the cost of your teaching, assessment and operating University facilities such as the library, IT equipment and other support services. University fees and charges can be paid in advance and there are several methods of payment, including online payments and payment by instalment. Fees are reviewed annually and are likely to increase to take into account inflationary pressures.
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