Dr. Oz and his wife, Lisa Oz, identified a national teen obesity and mental resilience crisis several years ago, and in response created a movement called HealthCorps. The program was fashioned after the Peace Corps, and its model was to strategically send young college graduates into low income, inner-city schools to teach and mentor teens. The teachers or coordinators received a summer intensive training and then would teach a curriculum covering topics like exercise, nutrition, and health and body awareness over a 2 year school period at an assigned High School. The program's mission was to inspire teens to understand their own ability to effect positive change. Certainly at the core of the mandate is to prevent teen obesity. Learning from young adults close in age was considered a key to the success of the program. HealthCorps coordinators currently continue the mandate in over 50 schools nationwide, empowering teens to make simple lifestyle habit changes and to pay it forward to family, friends and neighbors. Lessons include pedometer contests, nutrition label dissection, field trips to farms and hospitals, teen chef classes and learning how fitness can impact mental and physical health. Each school also has a yearly health fair, providing an opportunity to reach out to the surrounding community and offering a day of free health resources.
It has been a challenge to assess the impact of HealthCorps and to measure actual objective outcomes from the program, which is currently in 54 schools. Certainly one cannot dispute the benefits of an intense and comprehensive health curriculum for a teen population that typically receives little health edification. It also makes sense to employ young adults close in age to teens to offer this curriculum, since peer mentorship intuitively can make the information more likely to be received in a positive way. Still it's important to assess impact from a scientific perspective. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of the HealthCorps' two year curriculum on participating teens' diet, physical activity, health knowledge, BMI and percentage of body fat. This study included students (511) from 6 schools with the HealthCorps program, and students (460) from 5 schools that did not offer the curriculum. The full study is published in the October issue of the journal Childhood Obesity.
The study reported the following results: The HealthCorps' curriculum was associated with a reduction in self-reported consumption of soda pop of 0.61 times per week (p =0.04), or 13.0%. This beneficial effect was especially concentrated among girls, who showed a decrease of soda pop consumption by 1.12 times per week (p < 0.01), or 25.7%. The above estimates were based conservatively on the assumption of zero benefit for dropouts; excluding dropouts from the analysis resulted in larger effect sizes, including the result that students who did participate in HealthCorps were 45% more likely to report that they were more physically active now, than they were in the prior year (p =0.05). Translated, that means that the program was effective in reducing the amount of soda consumed, particularly among female teens. A separate increase in physical activity was also observed.
So the bottom line is that peer mentoring is seen as a valid and effective tool for improving the diet and exercise behaviors of teens. "The results achieved by HealthCorps are important, and encouraging," says David L. Katz, MD, MPH, Editor-in-Chief of Childhood Obesity and Director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center. Further studies looking at the impact of the HealthCorps' curriculum on other specific teen habit changes are planned.
For more information on HealthCorps, check out http://www.healthcorps.org
Published On: October 12, 2011