About the research group

The research group intends to:

The purpose of the research group in Health Psychology is to produce knowledge about the underlying mechanisms behind health-related behaviours. In a public health perspective, this is of significant importance. Society has taken on a responsibility for research and health policies based on knowledge of risk and protective factors related to health, as well as a responsibility to provide evidence based information, interventions and relevant training / education. The research team in health psychology at the University of Tromsø aims at becoming a leading research center in health psychology. The production of knowledge will be available to other researchers in the field, and to the authorities who will implement the research findings in health preventive work.

Research strategy of the group for future projects

According to the WHO, public health diseases by 2020 will be mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse, obesity and obesity-related diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. The development of these health problems and recovery in the aftermath is to a large degree influenced by the individual’s behavior and lifestyle. In this context, psychological factors are known to play a significant role. Despite the large improvements in biomedical treatment of the various conditions, an integrated biopsychosocial approach is essential for the prevention of these diseases, as well as for diminishing or postponing the onset of the diseases more efficiently than today. This is particularly important with regard to the increasing number of elderly people in society.

A longitudinal research design is best suited to produce solid knowledge about human courses of development, risk and protective factors, and about the causality in relationships. The University of Tromsø has a long tradition of conducting longitudinal research through the “Tromsø survey” from 1974. However, this study does not comprise mental health and health psychological issues.
In the so-called Collaboration Reform, published by the Norwegian health authorities in 2009, the emphasis is more on improving research prevention strategies than on research on treatment. Norway spends the most money in the world on health, but compared with other countries the health benefits are not corresponding to what the money which is invested.

The Reform emphasizes the importance of health prevention efforts to keep the older segments of the population healthy as long as possible. The research group’s goal is to develop longitudinal projects which can follow the development in areas of health psychology in the Norwegian population, and to appliy for research funding for dotoral fellowships.

Research problems to be addressed

  • Sleep
  • Obesity
  • Physical activity
  • Subjective health complaints
  • Anxiety and depressive disorders
  • Sex and sexual behavior
  • Use of illicit substances
  • Health related behavior, e.g., eating behavior.

Approach to research

The research activity of the group has traditionally been run as a series of single projects by the individual members. The combined scientific output from the group has been quite good, and this strategy will therefore be continued. However, the future research activity will to a larger extent include common projects shared by several or all of the group members. The purpose is to combine single and common projects to attain more external financing, and to attract more master, professional and PhD students to the group.

Future common projects

Sleep and sleep-related health complaints

About 10-15 percent is estimated to suffer from serious or long-term sleeping problems. There are mainly two factors influencing sleep and sleep length, which is (a) accumulation of sleep need as function of wake time (homeostatic factor), and (b) a biological process (called the circadian factor). The circadian factor is delayed by about 11 minutes each night, and hence, need daylight in the early morning to entrain the circadian rhythm to 24h cycle. In Northern-Norway the amount of daylight varies considerably between seasons. During November to January there is no daylight at all, which heightens the risk a phase delay in bedtime and sleep onset latency, and possible sleep quality as well. This may increase daytime sleepiness and fatigue during the dark time (mørketiden). Some individuals may be particularly prone to develop sleeping and affective problems during this period. The goal of the research group is therefore to conduct prospective studies examining risk and protective factors for developing sleep and daytime function problems, and/or poorer mental and somatic health, in order to increase our knowledge of how these problems may be prevented and potentially treated.

Reviews and meta-analyses

Forskergruppen bedriver allerede fellesprosjekter knyttet til kunnskapsoppsummeringer, hovedsakelig ved bruk av metaanalyse metodikk for å oppsummere hva vi så langt vet om effekten av ulike forebyggings- og behandlingstiltak. Utover formålet om å identifisere den sanne størrelsen på effekter av intervensjoner og tiltak, kan slike studier også fremskaffe ny kunnskap om hva som predikerer variasjon i behandlingseffekter. Forskergruppen har derfor som mål å utvikle flere slike prosjekter eksempelvis knyttet til effekten av behandlings- og forebyggende tiltak ovenfor seksuelle overgrep, betydningen av forebyggende tiltak for eldre mennesker og opplevd livskvalitet eller subjektiv helse, behandlingseffekter av fedme­operasjoner i forhold til opprettholdelse av vekttap, eller behandlingseffekter av plastisk kirurgi for psykososiale variabler.

Projects in collaboration with research group for Psychiatry (IKM): Explanatory factors and mechanisms for dropout in the upper secondary school

The majority of health problems among adults are related to way of life and unhealthy behaviour already starting in the early years of life. Schools are an important arena for prevention of health problems, in which interventions may be implemented to increase the knowledge and skills of the young enabling them to take better care of their health. It is also a splendid place to conduct studies yielding more representative data. The major aim is to attain more knowledge about adolescents’ reasons, motives and intentions for healthy versus unhealthy behaviour. This should improve our understanding of how diverse risk and resilience protective factors may act deteriorative or ameliorative for adaptation and learning processes at school. Today, about one third of the pupils are dropping out of the upper secondary school in Troms county, which is presumed to heighten the risk for future negative consequences in adult life. The research group has been allotted a PhD student position to help study reasons for the alarming high dropout rates during the last 15 years. This research is done in collaboration with the research group for Psychiatry, headed by prof. dr. med Tore Sørlie, who is the principal researcher for the school dropout project.

Project idea (yet to be implemented): Mental health and quality of life issues among elderly living in nursing homes

Andelen eldre i samfunnet øker stadig, hovedsakelig fordi gjennomsnittsalderen øker. Dette impliserer en rekke utfordringer for samfunnet i forhold til økte krav om mer og mer spesialiserte helsetjenester, både gjennom geriatri og økt behov for sykehusplasser, flere sykehjemsplasser og eldresentre. Forebyggende helsearbeid spesielt tilpasset den eldre generasjonen vil derfor være av avgjørende betydning for å kunne utnytte ressursene samfunnet har tilgjengelig i første-, andre- og tredje linjetjenesten.

Her vil det være aktuelt å søke samarbeid, primært med kommunene, for å utvikle prosjekter knyttet til fremming av livskvalitet, fysiske og kognitive aktiviteter, forebygging av depresjoner og lengst mulig bevarelse av kognitive funksjoner. For flere eldre fortoner tilværelsen på sykehjem og eldresentre seg som dels innholds- og meningsløse. Det vil være god forebygging å fremskaffe kunnskap som kan endre på dette, og hvilke strukturbetingelser fra kommunens, de ansattes og sykehjemmets side nødvendig for å gjøre hverdagen til de eldre mer meningsfull. Eldresenter og sykehjem representerer også en god kilde til innsamling av representative data da prosjekter i regi av disse sentrene gir bedre mulig for direkte kontakt med den enkelte eldre, og dermed høynet deltakerprosent.

Analytic methods used by the research group

The research group has advanced competence and skills in analysing a wide range of data, from qualitative to quantitative analyses, for example:

  • Regression and variance analyses (ANOVA), including repeated ANOVA and multivariate ANOVA.
  • Analysis of repeated measures where dependency in data is a problem that needs to be addressed properly (e.g., linear mixed modeling and Generalized Estimating Equations).
  • Latent growth curve modeling.
  • Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses.
  • Structural equation modeling.
  • ROC analyses to study sensitivity and specificity, e.g., of diagnostic measures.

Fellesprosjekt i forskergruppen

Work title: "The role of self-regulation for circadian sleep and sleep problems across seasons"

Place of data collection: Tromsø

Design: Prospective, 4 repeated measures a year

Participants: Students at the University of Tromsø.