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Sense of coherence as a predictor of risky health behaviours amongst teenage girls on a targeted youth development programme

Kirsty Humphrey (Research Health Psychologist based at Teens and Toddlers, London, UK)
Andrew McDowell (Based at Teens and Toddlers, London, UK)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 16 September 2013




The aim of the current paper is to examine if participants attitudes and perceptions regarding risk leads to subsequent risky behaviours as this is indicative of sexual health and teenage pregnancy. The second aim was to explore if sense of coherence (SOC) (a predictor of mental health) mediates the relationship between perceived risk and risky health behaviours (RHB), or even be used as an indicator for RHB.


Young people from a targeted youth mental health programme for “at risk” teenagers, were asked to complete a battery of measures: SOC, The Adolescent Risk Behaviour Survey (ARBS) and RHB post-programme.


RHB such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs and smoking, correlated positively with attitudes to risk and negatively with SOC. Hierarchical regression analysis revealed that there was a significant relationship between ARBS and reported health behaviour, which was strengthened by SOC. SOC contributes to the relationship between attitudes and perception of risk and RHB, whereby individuals with stronger SOC were less likely to partake in RHB. Qualitative analysis revealed that the components of SOC (comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness) were perceptible six months minimum after the programme has been undertaken.

Research limitations/implications

The present research was unable to obtain SOC baseline scores which could be used as evidence of the programme's impact. Furthermore, participants had completed the programme six months to six years previously, hence were relying on memory recall and self-report. Future research would incorporate three points of data collection on SOC in order to monitor change in relation to perceived risk and risk behaviours.

Practical implications

The paper provides a good framework in terms of adding value of the SOC concept for understanding the world of at risk young people and their psychological wellbeing, and a future tool for tracking whether changes occur. RHB in adolescence lead to health related problems as well as risk taking in adulthood, costing the NHS.

Social implications

The intervention itself aims to target individuals at risk from being not in employment, education or training or teen parents which has wider social implications relating to educational engagement, health behaviours and the community.


The data analysis is applied to a specific group of at risk young people, on a novel intervention which uses an experiential learning model in order to encourage self awareness through the interaction with toddlers, as well as build self efficacy, improve mental health, self-esteem and decision making ability. The battery of measures used in combination within the research context is unique.



The authors thank Linda Hornyak (Research Assistant) and Alessandra Olivier (Research Assistant) as well as all those involved and responsible for running the Teens and Toddlers Programmes.


Humphrey, K. and McDowell, A. (2013), "Sense of coherence as a predictor of risky health behaviours amongst teenage girls on a targeted youth development programme", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 146-152.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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