Puerto Rico: 4-H Youth Leaders Encourage Healthier Lifestyles Among Peers
Healthy behaviors, like exercising and eating nutritious foods, can help teenagers avoid weight-related health problems when they are older. However, CDC’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that many Puerto Rican 9th–12th grade students are not eating enough fruits and vegetables or getting enough physical activity and that nearly 20% tried smoking a cigarette at least once. Research on Positive Youth Development (PYD) programs suggests that positive influences—structured skill building, and leadership experiences, and such as caring, long-term adult mentorship—can help young people avoid unhealthy behaviors and enjoy more personal success in their lives. PYD programs, such as 4-H, can help youth have a much lower risk of personal, social, and behavioral problems than their peers who are not involved in a PYD program. Youth participating in a PYD program are less likely to smoke and drink than their peers, have better grades, and are more likely to expect to attend college. The Puerto Rico Department of Health used a portion of its Preventive Health and Health Services (PHHS) Block Grant funds to train teenagers on how to influence their peers to make healthier choices, guided by a PYD approach.
Puerto Rico established an agreement with the University of Puerto Rico to support training and community outreach activities for its teenage 4-H club members currently in school. Planners designed a two-day interactive course to teach young leaders about the basics of public health, healthy lifestyles, health promotion, and chronic diseases. The training included discussions about nutrition and physical activity and strategies to reach their peer networks. Health department educators and nutritionists gathered feedback from more than 70 youth leaders using role-play activities, discussions, and evaluations throughout the course.
In 2016, more than 70 participants representing 31 communities in Puerto Rico were certified as 4-H community health promotores. Working in pairs, these 4-H students completed at least two educational activities for their peers in schools and community projects—touching the lives of more than 3,000 people. Youth leaders also logged valuable feedback following community interventions to help guide future program improvements.
Sixty active youth leaders continue outreach efforts through community educational activities, media interventions, and school projects. With PHHS Block Grant funds, the Puerto Rico Department of Health is expanding the 4-H program to engage teenagers in other health topics, such as skin protection and oral health, and to get them involved in community gardens. Practicing healthy behaviors can help teenagers enjoy positive life experiences and avoid health problems throughout their lives.
Story year: 2017
Check out previous PHHS Block Grant success stories from Puerto Rico