Brock Healthy Youth Project

BHYP (“Be Hype”) is a project being led by a transdisciplinary team of researchers from Brock University and other Canadian and international universities, as well as partner organizations and our youth engagement committee. The goal of BHYP is to examine the link between health-risk behaviours and adolescent brain development longitudinally.

Why is BHYP important?

Adolescence often is characterized as a health paradox because it is a time of extensive increases in physical and mental capabilities, yet mortality and injury rates increase significantly from childhood to adolescence. In fact, the adolescent years may be a sensitive time for engagement in health-risk behaviours (e.g., substance use, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, risky sexual activity), which can have life-long repercussions. In fact:

  • Youth are more likely to report mental health problems and/or substance abuse disorders than any other age group
  • 70% of mental disorders start between early adolescence and young adulthood
  • Leading causes of death among adolescents are preventable (e.g., unintentional injuries, suicide, assault)
  • Health-risk behaviours that start or are reinforced during adolescence (physical inactivity, poor nutrition, substance abuse) are among the top 20 causes of health-related problems globally for all age groups

The question of why adolescents seem predisposed to engage in health-risk behaviours is age-old; however, recent work in the field of developmental neuroscience has provided new insights into this phenomenon by suggesting that brain maturation and the fact that neural connections among brain regions continues to develop throughout adolescence and into young adulthood might play a key role. The Dual Systems model of adolescent brain development suggests that regions of the brain involved in processing emotions and potential rewards appear to be mature by adolescence, while the regions of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still reaching maturity. Such a discrepancy in timing may explain why adolescents tend to enjoy novelty and are more likely to take risks than adults.

The goal of BHYP is to provide an integrated assessment of the Dual Systems model through a five-year longitudinal study of health-risk behaviours across adolescence that includes assessments of brain activity, genetics, endocrine status, physical activity, personality, and environmental factors. Participants include 1,500 youth (ages 8-13 at year one) who are completing surveys annually over a five-year period. A subset of the participants is also completing a three-year lab component which involves the collection of genetic, hormone, sleep, and brain activity measures.

In order to ensure the timely mobilization of our research findings into prevention/intervention programs, policy, and education, we provide:

  1. an integrated investigation of the development of youth health-risk behaviours,
  2. evidence-based support (or lack of support) for the Dual Systems Model of adolescent brain development and its implications for youth vulnerabilities and opportunities,
  3. updates on indicators for health and wellness throughout the transitions from childhood to adolescence to young adulthood that are best to target in prevention/intervention programs, such as activities that enhance impulse control and positive lifestyle choices (linked back to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals), and
  4. a timely and widespread application of findings given the strong team of researchers, partners, and integrated knowledge mobilization strategies.