VIDEO: Researchers look to a healthier future for Limerick

RESEARCHERS and graduates at the University of Limerick are collaborating on ways to make Limerick a healthier place by 2034.

They have come together to form a think tank - Health Futures Lab - which is exploring how cities can and societies can be designed “with health and well-being at their core”.

The group brings together some of the brightest brains UL has to offer in the fields of architecture, economics, product design, interactive media, occupational therapy, marketing and engineering.

“Health is a complex issue and requires complex thinking on many fronts to allow the opportunities and solutions that need to be fully exploited come to being,” explained Dr Yoga Nathan, senior lecturer in public health at the Graduate Entry Medical School in UL.

“To this end, the Health Futures Lab focused their work on a whole-life approach. This is supported by recent research which highlights the importance of developing positive health behaviours at a young age. However, according to a recent Health Behaviours in School Children survey, over half of primary school age children do not achieve the recommended level of physical activity and by 15 years of age, almost nine out of 10 girls and seven out of 10 boys do not achieve the recommended level.”

Dr Stephen Kinsella, senior lecturer at the Kemmy Business School, added: “Ireland currently spends almost €14 billion of increasingly scarce public money on health and this expenditure is projected to increase massively as the population ages. The Health Futures Lab is important for this reason alone: figuring out ways we can live longer, healthier lives not just through technology, but through the design of services that meet people’s needs as they change throughout the life cycle.”

Three major themes have emerged from the think tank’s efforts to date - health promotion, mental health and big data.

Among the first of the initiatives planned tackling Ireland’s growing problem with obesity “through the development and use of a responsive technological system which offers personalised information regarding food and nutrition”.

“This system will also act alongside health promotion to prompt a permanent cultural and lifestyle change,” a spokesperson explained.

On big data, researchers have designed a data aggregation service for Ireland called Lifebase. This service ensures timely and aggregate flow of information through a person’s life as they interact with the health system.

And a third team of researchers focused on mental health. Proposals here include a “Shiny Happy People” health and wellbeing festival and, on a policy level, the “Let’s Talk” program which would be rolled out in after-school support networks already in place in Limerick city as well as sport and artistic clubs capturing those aged 12 to 16-year-olds.

Those involved in the project consulted widely with the public as well as policymakers and community stakeholders from organisations such as: Canteen Food Limerick, That’s Limerick City, Learning Hub Limerick and Limerick City and County Council.

Sarah Moore, associate vice president academic, University of Limerick said: “The Health Futures Lab initiative is a perfect example of collaboration that gives rise to positive outcomes for everyone, and it’s exactly how we at the University of Limerick envisage the ways in which we can contribute to innovative approaches to working, learning and thinking.”

The brains trust behind the Health Futures Lab held on a one-day exhibition on the project at the Cahill May Roberts Building on Bank Place on Wednesday last.

But those who missed out will shortly be able to see an online version of the exhibition on or follow @futures_lab on Twitter for more information and discussion.

It is planned to move the exhibition to other locations in Limerick this autumn.