I am currently finalizing my PhD thesis with a focus on gambling as a health problem at the Department of Caring Science at Åbo Akademi University. In one of the sub-studies of my thesis, mapping the field of Nordic gambling research, the need for an increased focus on early prevention efforts targeting problematic aspects of gambling were highlighted. Considering this finding, I am very happy to currently be taking part in a regional project where we as representatives for Health Sciences at Åbo Akademi University are evaluating an early prevention program primarily taking place in the school context. In the project, Evaluering av den österbottniska drogförebyggande modellen (EDGAR), a new Ostrobothnian model targeting substance use and abuse, Pohjanmaan ehkäisevän päihdetyön malli (PEPP), is systematically evaluated. In addition to focusing on traditional themes highlighted in substance use prevention such as alcohol, topics such as energy drinks, gambling and gaming are also included in the project scope. The PEPP project is owned by Nykterhetsförbundet Hälsa och Trafik rf. The EDGAR project is led by Anna K. Forsman who is also responsible for the Study Programme in Health Sciences, specialization in Health Education (teacher education programme) at the Department of Caring Science.

The PEPP project targets children and adolescents in primary and secondary schools in Ostrobothnia, applying an early prevention and health promotion approach. The structured model is based on a sustainable whole school approach where PEPP project resources and activities are integrated in the school curriculum and overall school activities. Focal points include supporting and promoting mental health, social skills and media literacy. While the material is primarily aimed at representatives for the school arena, resources are also available for parents as well as representatives for non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders with activities aimed at children and young people. In the first phase of the EDGAR evaluation project, the team has performed 28 focus group interviews with representatives for school personnel (representing both teaching and student health) and parents. The aim was to explore participants´ views on challenges and possibilities regarding early prevention work. In the winter of 2020-2021, the plan is to perform follow-up interviews focusing on participants’ experiences regarding the use of the PEPP resources.

On February 13th 2020 the EDGAR and PEPP projects hosted a knowledge sharing seminar in Vaasa, with 140 participants representing the school context and regional municipalities, non-governmental organizations and other interested parties. At the event, PEPP project leader Sanna Tuomela presented the resources of the PEPP project, freely available online in both Finnish and Swedish. EDGAR project leader Anna K Forsman elaborated on schools as an important arena for health promotion work and the importance of evidence-based practice in health promotion and early prevention work in this setting. I myself held a brief presentation based on preliminary research findings stemming from the focus group interviews conducted in the first phase of the EDGAR project. I focused on the participants views on roles and responsibilities among different stakeholders with regard to early prevention work. Overall, the interviewees expressed thoughts and opinions in line with the WHO healthy settings approach, highlighting a need for shared responsibility and collaboration between key societal arenas as well as the importance of multi-professional collaboration within the school setting.

Pictured from left to right: Panel discussion participants and moderators at a knowledge sharing seminar at Academill in Vaasa 13.2.2020. The panelists included Nina Herrgård, (substance use prevention coordinator, Mustasaari municipality) Anna K. Forsman (Associate Professor in Health Sciences at Åbo Akademi, EDGAR project leader), Isak Westerlund (Teacher, Gerby skola), Anne Salovaara-Kero (Director, Pohjanmaan kriisikeskus Valo), Pia Blomqvist (Assistant principal, Korsholms högstadium). Moderators: Johanna Nordmyr (Åbo Akademi, EDGAR project coordinator) and Sanna Tuomela (PEPP project leader).

I thoroughly enjoy research activities where we have the opportunity to work side by side with valuable partners in the field in further developing evidence-based initiatives and services to support health and well-being in our region.

Johanna Nordmyr
Project coordinator (MSocSc, PhD candidate)