10. June 2024

£660,000 to research on social prescribing to combat loneliness among young people

The Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research has granted NOK 9 million (£660,000), to University College London’s Department of Behavioural Science and Health and their INcreasing AdolesCent social neTworks and support (INACT) study. The aim of INACT is to provide the first robust evidence on the effectiveness of social prescribing interventions in addressing loneliness among children and adolescents.

Photo on top: Illustration photo/Shutterstock

Loneliness is a major public health concern in many countries, including the UK.

While most interventions are targeting those at risk from it, for example due to physical health difficulties, there are gaps in evidence for effective treatment for those who already report being lonely. They are the target group of the INcreasing AdolesCent social neTworks and support (INACT) study.

“Kavli Trust has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to assess the impact of social prescribing to address loneliness in young people,” says Senior Research Fellow and co-principal investigator at the Research Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London, Doctor Daniel Hayes.

Senior Research Fellow and co-principal investigator at the Research Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London, Doctor Daniel Hayes. Photo: University College London

“We are pleased to announce that The Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research will support the INACT study,” says General Manager of Kavli Trust, Ingrid Paasche.

“Kavli Trust is committed to promoting and supporting low threshold interventions and programmes that can reach a wide range of children and young people. Social prescribing is one such initiative with great potential. We are confident that this project will provide valuable insights into its effectiveness and how it can best be utilised as a tool to improve the lives and mental health of young people,” she adds.

Underused by young people

Social prescribing connects people to activities, groups and services in their community addressing the social factor that affect their health and wellbeing.

Social prescribing is an approach gaining momentum in the UK, to tackle difficulties such as social factors such as loneliness, but it is currently underused by young people, despite them thinking it is beneficial.

“We know that there is good evidence that it can help address loneliness in adults, however, the traditional model of delivering social prescribing, via primary care, may not be best suited for younger age groups,” explains Hayes.

Social Prescribing in schools

The INACT study will develop a social prescribing pathway in schools.

“With this funding, we will co-develop and evaluate a novel social prescribing pathway via a setting accessible to most young people, which we hope will make an important contribution to the field,” explains Hayes.

“Using schools is a more natural and tailored approach to reaching young people, rather than waiting for them to become so lonely that they develop health problems and actually need to go to their GP, or mental health services even, to address them. We are so excited to see if we can bring young people into social prescribing in a way that hasn’t been tried before,” says co-principal investigator of INACT, Professor Daisy Fancourt.

Co-principal investigator of INACT, Professor Daisy Fancourt. Photo: University College London

Trialling the pathway

To explore the pathway and evaluation framework’s feasibility, acceptability and suitability, the study will start with a pilot that will include 107 lonely young people aged 9-13, identified across 12 schools in London, Manchester and Leeds.

After an initial review, a decision will be made regarding whether to proceed to full trial. If the criteria are met, an additional 316 young people will be recruited from 30 schools.

The full trial will consist of a pragmatic, pupil randomised, superiority trial, comparing ‘social prescribing with a link worker’ to ‘signposting from school staff’, ie. active referral versus directing young people towards social activities, but leaving them to make contact themselves.

The primary outcome measure will be loneliness. Secondary outcomes will focus on mental health, wellbeing, educational attainment and engagement.

Qualitative process evaluation

The INACT study will conduct a qualitative process evaluation to unpack how the intervention worked, for whom and in what context and a cost consequences analysis to provide a comparative assessment of the costs and benefits of the intervention over signposting.

The study will provide the first rigorous evidence of the impact of social prescribing for loneliness. Findings will help inform the prioritisation, commissioning, and running of social prescribing in schools.

“Children have been deeply involved in developing the INACT project, and the results will provide valuable insight about whether such measures can reduce loneliness. The experts who have assessed the application, highlight the project’s solid methods, thorough process and strong research team,” says Programme Manager of The Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research, Jan-Ole Hesselberg.

Read more: Article on The Social Biobehavioural Research Group’s website

Specially designed for useful research

INcreasing AdolesCent social neTworks and support (INACT) was chosen as one of two projects awarded funding from The Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research call for proposals 2023, following a thorough application and review process.

The call for proposals and review of applications have followed the established guidelines for The Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research, which is specially designed to promote useful research.

“With this thorough process, we wish to ensure that the Kavli Trust funds are allocated to useful research. This means research projects that address evidence gaps based on existing evidence as well as being of importance and benefit for the users,” says Jan-Ole Hesselberg.

He describes the 2023 call for proposals as very successful.

“The Scientific Review Committee stated that the quality of the proposals discussed at the panel meeting was high, and that the majority of the projects were worthy of funding. The academic standard was at a very high level,” says Hesselberg.

Read more: About the programme
Call for proposals 2023 (closed)

Including the 2023 allocations, the health research programme has allocated funds to a total of 17 research projects since its inception and first call for proposals in 2017. The total allocated amount is NOK 154 million allocated to a total of 17 projects, including the INACT study. The 2024 call for proposals is in progress according to the guidelines.

About the project

Project name: INcreasing AdolesCent social neTworks and support (INACT)
The project will address the following evidence gap: 5. What is the effect of interventions to reduce loneliness in children and adolescents?
Amount: NOK 8,944 million
Total project cost: NOK 16,959 million
Project period: March 2024 – October 2027
Host institution: University College London, Behavioural Science and Health
Principal investigators: Daniel Hayes and Daisy Fancourt
Collaborating institutions: University of Manchester, Social Prescribing Youth Network (SPYN) and National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP)

Facts: The application process

  • A total of 38 evidence gaps were identified through a thorough process, starting with a strategic scientific committee carrying out updated searches for systematic reviews in selected databases to identify significant evidence gaps in child and adolescent mental health.
  • A user panel consisting of patients, their carers and relevant health professionals ranked the 38 evidence gaps.
  • Each user ranked which eight evidence gaps they considered most important, and which eight they considered the least important.
  • The ten evidence gaps that were ranked highest by the user panel were included in the call for proposals for 2023.
  • All applicants had to design studies addressing one or more of the ten selected evidence gaps. A total of 31 pre-proposals were submitted by the deadline of 15 March 2023. The pre-proposals were reviewed by the Kavli Trust Scientific Review Committee, which consists of five professionals with relevant and high academic and scientific standing.
  • The pre-proposals were reviewed and ranked according to the following three criteria:
    • Excellence
    • Impact
    • Quality and efficiency of the implementation
  • At the end of May 2023, the applicants of the ten highest-ranked pre-proposals were invited to submit full proposals.
  • A total of nine full proposals were submitted.
  • First, the members of the review committee individually scored the nine proposals.
  • Second, the review committee members met and discussed the proposals in a panel meeting led by the managers of the Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research.
  • The programme management presented their recommendations of which projects should receive funding to the Kavli Trust board of trustees in a meeting in November 2023.
  • Finally, the Board of Trustees decided to allocate funding in line with the recommendations from the programme management.