Youth-led Health Promotion

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cypnow article-cuppaReading through the latest issue of Children & Young People Now, an article caught my eye.

The ‘Skills for the job’ section talks about the need for youth organisations to “actively involve young people in developing policies for a healthy lifestyle”.

So why is this important?

Well as we know, for years, health education in schools has taken a scaremongering approach telling young people what not to do and the risks of doing it. Many unhealthy behaviours, like smoking and drinking alcohol are developed in adolescence. It’s therefore important to get the message in early and bring the young people on the journey with you.

This is what we have been doing for the past two years, engaging young people through our enterprise sessions as part of the R U Different? programme.

Presented with the findings of their anonymous survey, students are asked to choose a positive social norms message and create a campaign around it. From the get-go, the power is in their hands. They choose the message, the target audience and how that message should be shared. Whatever the nature of the campaign, the only obligation is to ensure it’s positive.

What is the effect?

As Sheppard says “Facilitating them [young people] to design and project manage interventions will increase ownership and retention of young volunteers”. We have found that involving young people in the creation and implementation of a health promotion campaign has a huge positive impact on their perceptions (and sometimes even behaviours), evidenced through the completion of a repeat survey.

Also crucial, is the peer-to-peer element as “Young people (can) inspire their peers to make healthier choices”. Our work tells us that a campaign created by peers will have a more profound effect than a top down approach from schools and other agencies.

The approach is summarised well; “Health improvement is not rocket science. It is a little bit of evidence-based health knowledge, sprinkled with common sense, with a dash of behavioural science, and it is the responsibility of everyone who works with children and young people to adopt this approach.” We at Social Sense could not agree more.

To view this year’s eight best youth-led campaigns as part of our R U Different? Enterprise Awards national competition, click here.

The full CYP article is available to read online.

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