A new program launched this week aims to improve young people’s unhealthy lifestyle behaviours.

The online Health4Life Initiative is designed to help Australian high school students reduce their chance of developing chronic diseases, including heart disease and mental health disorders, by preventing and modifying lifestyle risk behaviours that commonly emerge in adolescence.

It is focused on six major unhealthy behaviours.

Recent studies have found that more than three quarters of a sample of 18 year-olds have insufficient intake of vegetables (80 per cent) and more than half reported binge drinking at least monthly (52 per cent).

More than 40 per cent showed inadequate consumption of fruit, approximately one-third reported sitting for longer than recommended periods, and approximately one quarter reported smoking or failing to meet physical activity guidelines.

Researchers aim to recruit 8,000 students from 80 schools across New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland to test the intervention, which includes an online school-based program, a smartphone tracker app and a booster app to help the students most at-risk.

“Research evidence tells us that much of the burden associated with chronic disease can be reduced or prevented by addressing behavioural risk factors,” said UNSW project leader Professor Maree Teesson.

“Typically, the risk factors develop in adolescence and occur in clusters as people engage in multiple risk behaviours simultaneously.

“Not only do the behaviours put people at risk of chronic disease in the long term, in the short term they are associated with increased risk for obesity, mental health problems and alcohol related harms,” she added.