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Upcoming National Health Education Week Focuses on Improving Adolescent Health

October 16, 2012

Last year, the biannual National Youth Behavior Risk Survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that many adolescents are engaged in behaviors "that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death (and) disability" in the U.S. Among others, risky behaviors include tobacco, alcohol and drug use, eating an unhealthy diet, and getting little or no exercise.

For example, the survey found:

  • Nearly 39 percent of high school students surveyed were current alcohol users and more than 20 percent had taken prescription drugs without a doctor's order.
  • Thirteen percent of American youth were obese and 15 percent were overweight.
  • Nearly one-third played video games or used the computer for non-school or work-related purposes for more than three hours a day

Next Monday, October 15, National Health Education Week will kick off with a focus on "Adolescent Health: Planting Seeds for a Healthier Generation." Founded by the Society of Public Health Education (SOPHE) and celebrated since 1995 during the third week of October, the event draws national attention to a major health issue and helps people understand how health education can improve the health status of Americans.

"Educating our youth and families now is critical," says Paulette Grilli, R.N., health promotions manager at Washington Hospital. "There is a sense of urgency because our society is experiencing an explosion in the incidence of diabetes, cancer and substance abuse, in both our youth and adult populations."

Tobacco, alcohol and other drugs

Today, most teens have relatively easy access to drugs and situations involving tobacco and substance use. Many experts believe that the earlier a person begins smoking or chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol or using drugs, the more likely he or she will develop dependence and addiction. In addition, substance use and abuse can increase the risk for injuries, violence, HIV infection and other diseases, the CDC reports.

As a parent or family member of a teenager, you can help prevent your child from getting involved with tobacco, alcohol and drugs by staying directly involved in his or her everyday world and talking and listening regularly. Be sure to communicate that you do not want them drinking or using drugs, and set limits that will help your child avoid high-risk situations.

"Substance abuse is connected to an array of genetic and social issues. Today's economic and global problems are adding to the stress of the entire family," adds Grilli. "Family education is key to raising awareness and providing individuals with tools to make better personal choices for wellness and the prevention of disease."

If you would like to take action in your community to help kids avoid tobacco, alcohol and drug use or assist youngsters who are already affected, National Health Education Week is a great time to get started. Working with schools is a good way to begin.

SOPHE recommends supporting your local schools in creating and maintaining a tobacco-free atmosphere through the school system and conducting education to promote a tobacco- and drug-free lifestyle. You can also collaborate with the school system to review current health education programs and identify research-based prevention strategies for students.

Diet and exercise

Over the last 20 years, the obesity rate for adolescents has more than doubled. Studies show that overweight adolescents are 70 percent more likely to become overweight or obese adults.

"Today, we're finding that adolescents who are overweight or obese are at risk for serious health conditions that used to affect only adults, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure," Grilli observed.

Parents can help their teens by modeling the right behaviors and creating a home environment that encourages an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits. Besides offering kids nutritious food options, educate them about why eating healthy and staying active are important to their immediate and long-term good health.
"It is difficult for an adult or a child to be successful in making healthy choices in food without basic information and having their entire family on a healthy eating plan," notes Grilli. "Children are more likely to exercise if their parents and older siblings are exercising. People need good behaviors modeled and they need support."

To make a difference at your child's school, find out about the nutrition and physical activities policies and programs. If needed, work to help improve them. Let the school know that you support nutrition education and physical activity programs from the time children start kindergarten through high school. Work with community leaders, school administrators, organizations and government agencies to identify the needs of adolescents in your community. Then, help to create or expand programs that promote healthy eating and active living.

Health educators have a role

Health educators can play an important role in helping to teach and motivate young people to make better decisions and adopt healthier lifestyles. These professionals work in a range of different settings, including hospitals, non-profit organizations, government agencies and doctors' offices, as well as private businesses and colleges.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the need for professional health educators will grow by 37 percent between 2010 and 2020. One of the drivers, according to the Bureau, will be "to reduce health care costs by teaching people about healthy habits and behaviors."

Washington Hospital Offers Health Education Year Round

Health Education Week is a great time to think about the health topics of concern to you. Washington Hospital offers ongoing community-focused health education through a variety of programs all year long.

"We respond to community health education needs by inviting expert speakers to present at our programs, by videotaping many of our seminars on healthcare "hot topics," and then televising them on InHealth, Comcast cable channel 78," says Grilli. "We provide this community with a wide variety of health education seminars, screenings and services to empower our families to be healthier and happier, and enjoy better quality of life."

To learn more about the health and wellness programs and services offered by Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com and click on the Health & Wellness Catalog button. To learn more about National Health Education Week and strategies to improve adolescent health, go online to www.sophe.org, the Web site of the Society for Public Health Education.

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