Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Being healthy is, like, totally cool

The eclectic group of presenters at this morning’s “Health Promotion and Young Adults” session was “in true APHA fashion,” said moderator Michelle Chuk, MPH. From binge drinking to disaster preparedness, the topics were varied, but a recurring theme was the importance of using the media to get messages out to youth and their parents.

When it comes to preparing college students for natural disasters or other emergencies (recent teachable examples include the San Diego wildfires and the Virginia Tech shootings), Judith Taylor, EdD, said it’s important to include young people in the discussion and planning stages. Developing individualized plans within families, schools and other groups instills the need for personal responsibility in planning for the worst (while hoping for the best). Taylor’s survey of students found that just 43 percent of participants had discussed with family how to prepare for a disaster, and only 22 percent had developed a formal plan. Taylor’s recommendation? “Make a plan, develop a kit, stay informed.”

Switching gears — what does the rock band Queen have to do with health education on STDs, depression and eating disorders? Well, the band’s HIV/AIDS awareness benefit concert in 1992 was the inspiration for Benjamin Levy, a fourth-year medical student at Emory University, and his friends to start Music Inspires Health, a non-profit organization educating youth on health issues through collaboration with musicians in concerts, videos and on the Web. With advice from an advisory board of doctors and with help from the music industry, Levy and his partners plan to launch a health education Web site and multimedia-based concert tour that entertains and informs. Striving to be like a “cool, older sibling” and getting out health information in an accurate, interactive and nonjudgmental way, Levy wants to focus on topics that teens are already curious about, but haven’t found the answers to in health class or elsewhere.

Game on! In after-school programs, getting adolescents to exercise is more than just providing a gym with a basketball and a jump rope. The approach of program organizers is crucial to success and overcoming barriers such as gender expectations, attitudes, space and finances, according to Tracy Nichols, PhD. She found that actively engaging adolescents in activities they are receptive to is more effective than trying to force new activities on them. But cultural, economic and age differences between the adolescents and providers can negatively affect the provider’s expectations. Thus, Nichols said that the providers themselves should be targeted for education — not just on the importance of physical activity for health and its associated fringe benefits, but also on how to implement successful programs without perpetuating assumptions such as girls like to sit on the sidelines or cheerlead so they don’t mess up their hair, and boys are competitive and aggressive and don’t like activities like dancing.

The remaining two panelists tackled college binge drinking. Natoshia Askelson, MPH, studied media coverage of drinking in college, and whether newspaper articles discussed strategies parents could use to reduce their child’s alcohol use. Turns out, parents have a lot more influence than they realize — but they grossly underestimate their child’s sexual activity and alcohol use. Ryan Martin, MS, discussed his study of protective behavioral strategies among college drinkers that limited negative consequences of alcohol use such as lower academic performance and overdoses. Martin said universities should actively promote protective behavioral strategies such as alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks, using a designated driver and eating while drinking alcohol.

Now that you’ve read about efforts to educate youths on a variety of topics, what do you think are the best ways to target teens and young adults for health messages? And how do these methods differ from successful approaches to other age groups?

— P.T.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The most important way to reach teens is to talk to them in their own language and in a culturally appropriate way. Don't talk down to them, and try and let then come up with theirt own solutions to their problems. Teens hate to be trated like children.