Alix Sheppard, Youth Health Programme Advisor at RSPH, explains the role of the new Youth Health Movement in empowering young people to be creative in the promotion of healthy behaviours.

Changing a culture is no easy task and the Youth Health Movement sets out to do just that. A report from the public health and prevention sub – group from the Children and Young people’s Health Outcomes Forum (Public Health England, 2013) highlights the need to focus on an assets based approach to health promotion- rather than focusing on the negative aspects of unhealthy behaviours.

Highlighting the positive effects of a healthy lifestyle rather than focusing on the negatives of an unhealthy one, using the carrot rather than the stick- is the founding concept of the Youth Health Movement and Youth Health Champion Programme.

As highlighted by The Chief Medical Officer  Dame Sally Davies (2013) that without efforts to engage young people in both disease prevention and management, we will not succeed in reducing their future burden of disease.

Long gone are the days of healthy living lectures. Peer education has been shown to be effective as a means of increasing knowledge and participation in healthy behaviours (Storey et al, 2002) and the Youth Health Champion Programme, an integral part of the Youth Health Movement, can improve the health and wellbeing of both staff and young people as well as providing  young people with an accredited certificate and skills for work.

Attitudes are changing. More than ever, we are recognising and understanding the links between good health and wellbeing and personal attainment (Public Health England, 2014). RSPH is working with a wide variety of young people’s services, including local authorities, schools, colleges, youth centres, youth organisations, charities and community groups, to engage with, link together and develop a national Hub, a network of young people’s health and wellbeing services, resources and points of information.

The Youth Health Movement, supported by RSPH is empowering  young people to be creative in the promotion of healthy behaviours- making it cool to be healthy and promoting health through a variety of media  which are suitable for both the setting and the characteristics of the target audience.

A team of Youth Health Champions designs and delivers health promotion campaigns on topics identified by the setting, the local area public health needs- and the young people’s views of what is important. This programme has been developed over several years with successive cohorts of young people shaping the project and contributing to the models we have today.

The accredited training programme is evidence based and linked with current Public Health England advice and guidance and ongoing evaluation of the programme is key- to ensure sustainability. A recent development is the use of the Youth Health Champion programme as a Health Protection intervention, delivering the messages about hand  washing  and “Catch it, Bin it, Kill it” campaigns.

There are several different models for the delivery of a Youth Health Champion programme and opportunities for involvement in the Youth Health Movement. From the smallest community group to a large national organisation, young people and the organisations which work with them- can contribute to the health and wellbeing of their peers and parents, siblings and themselves, improving health outcomes for all.

For more information on joining the movement please contact asheppard@rsph.org.uk

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