Alix Sheppard is a Programme Coordinator for the Public Health Practitioners’ Register at Health Education England. She is also a Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) Youth Health Champion Consultant. The Youth Health Champions programme is a new movement to empower young people to be creative in the promotion of healthy behaviours amongst their peers at school.
“…The campaigns they plan are fun, interactive and focus on the positive aspects of choosing healthy behaviours, rather than the dire consequences of not doing so. Participating schools report better uptake of healthy food, less bullying and a more inclusive culture. Pupils feel more able to influence policies which affect their daily lives…”
How I became interested in working to help improve public health
I spent five years working in substance misuse, mentoring and providing treatment plans for people suffering with drug and alcohol misuse problems. It became really apparent to me that there was more work to be done in improving the resilience of young people, giving them the skills to cope with the ups and downs of life to reduce the likelihood that they may turn to substances when life gets tough.
It was also clear that we spend a lot of time “lecturing” young people about life – don’t take drugs… Eat healthily… Be safe…don’t have sex!! But what happens when you tell a teenager not to do something?? It makes it more appealing. So we need to engage young people in healthy behaviours by using a positive unique selling point.
‘Selling’ health – the Youth Health Champions programme
Peer led education is not a new concept but Royal Society for Public Health have developed this over a number of years with teams of young people. We simply asked them, “How would you sell health?” They are trained to design innovative campaigns to sell healthy behaviours in all youth settings, schools, youth clubs, sports clubs etc.
The campaigns they plan are fun, interactive and focus on the positive aspects of choosing healthy behaviours, rather than the dire consequences of not doing so. Participating schools report better uptake of healthy food, less bullying and a more inclusive culture. Pupils feel more able to influence policies which affect their daily lives.
What’s next for the programme
We are working on the development of the Youth Health Movement hub, which will be an online platform for Youth Health Champions programmes to share resources, ideas and to showcase the work of the Youth Health Champions programmes throughout the UK.
The national Youth Health Movement will provide a platform for young people to influence policy, shape service design and have a say in issues which affect them in school and youth club settings, 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.
Changing a culture is no easy task and the Youth Health Movement sets out to do just that.