Dissertation Mathijs Mesman – Interpersonal communication during a school-based intervention

Published on October 26, 2021 –Young people often have unhealthy lifestyles during late adolescence. In the Netherlands, many schools offer health interventions to discourage unhealthy lifestyles. However, effects of these health interventions are inconsistent. In collaboration with the Trimbos Institute, Mathijs Mesman investigated the role of interpersonal communication of students and teachers as a potential underlying factor for the inconsistent effects of school-based health interventions. On Thursday September 9, he obtained his doctorate at the University of Amsterdam.

Communication of young people and their social environment

The results of the dissertation showed that healthy conversations about alcohol use, snacking, and exercise were related to healthier behaviors. For example, findings showed that young people were less inclined to drink alcohol if they had negative conversations about alcohol use. Another finding was that frequent discussions about health behavior increased the behavioral intentions. More specifically, young people that discussed exercise more frequently were more inclined to subsequently exercise. Although interpersonal communication was found to be an important predictor of health behaviors, findings showed that the school-based health intervention did not influence interpersonal communication in comparison with a control condition. However, students that evaluated the health intervention positively had more frequent and healthier discussions about health behaviors.

The findings suggest that it is important for health interventions to encourage healthier conversations about health behaviors in order to stimulate healthier behaviors. Developers of health interventions could design health interventions in such a way that the lesson components stimulate conversations among young people, but also steer them in the right direction. Think, for example, of preparing a presentation about the desirable consequences of sufficient exercise.

Communication of teachers to young people

In addition to interpersonal communication between students and their social environment, the dissertation examined interpersonal communication between teachers and students during the school-based health intervention. Findings showed that teachers communicated approximately half of the health intervention according to its guidelines. This means that for the remaining half, teachers deviated from the guidelines by skipping (parts of) assignments, or replacing (parts of) assignments with assignments that teachers came up with themselves. This may be one of the reasons why no effect was found of the health intervention in comparison with a control group that did not receive the health intervention. When teachers were better able to adhere to the guidelines of the health intervention and communicate the intervention material clearly, the health intervention did have an effect on health behavior. In order to better enable teachers to effectively convey the health intervention content, it is recommended to further optimize the intervention materials and training sessions for teachers.


Mathijs Mesman, Discussions in the classroom: Investigating the role of interpersonal communication of teachers and students within a school-based health intervention. Promotor: prof. dr. S. J. H. M. van den Putte, Copromotores: dr. H. Hendriks en dr. S. Onrust.