Changing Health Behavior in Youth: Plus 40 Years

Article excerpt

Everyone who lived through the 1960s sees it through his or her own distinct prism. The conventional view is that it was a time mainly of flower children and angry protesters, of black power and militant feminism. (1) The 1960s were a time when the nerve endings of the body politic were constantly stimulated with new sensations, but it was also a time of mindless fantasy, groundless arrogance, spiritual awareness, callow youth and misguided elders. (1)

The year 1969, witnessed the first men on the moon (Nell Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin via Apollo 11), initiation of U.S. troop withdrawal from Vietnam, the Woodstock Music and Art Festival in upstate New York on Max Yasgur's dairy farm and invention of the microprocessor, beginning the computer revolution. In 1969, Zager and Evans released their hit song In the Year 2525. This year was also when the U.S. government banned the use of cyclamate artificial sweeteners, the "Chicago 8" was indicted in the aftermath of the Chicago Democratic Convention and Wendy's Hamburgers opened. In addition, the U.S. Army investigated Lt. William Galley for alleged massacre of civilians at the village of My Lai in South Viet Nam, the battery-powered smoke detector was invented, major league baseball player Curt Flood sued baseball challenging the "reserve clause" that restricted a player's choice about for whom he played, and Tommy Hilfiger began selling flowered shirts and bell bottom pants at the People's Place in Elmira, New York.

For those in health education, 1969 also marked the debut of School Health Review, the forerunner to the current American Journal of Health Education. The inaugural issue of School Health Review, in September of 1969 included the article, "Changing Health Behavior in Youth," by Dr. Godfrey M. Hochbaum. (2)

The 1969 Hochbaum (2) article, reprinted in this issue of the Journal, is segmented in three sections. The first section is an introduction, the second is entitled "A Common Denominator--The Effects on Health," and the last section is "Difficulty of Application to Everyday Life." In the introduction, the author suggested that before considering the need for changing health behavior, it may be advantageous to contemplate how we learn about health behavior. This may help us understand why effecting change can be difficult and how health educators might best succeed in bringing about positive health behavior.

The introduction follows a developmental theme. As infants and young children, we rely on our parents to provide for our health and safety. As we become older children and adolescents, we begin to take more personal responsibility for our own health and well being. Hochbaum uses hygiene, safety and healthy habits as examples of areas in which there is a shift in responsibility from parent to child. He identifies concepts of "rewards and punishments" for health behavior, "desirable and undesirable behavior," the development of "habits" and "behavior patterns" and the impact of knowledge concerning the influence of behavior on future health status. The influence of parents and other adults on personal health behavior is also noted, along with personal experiences with illness, influence of medical personnel and peers. Finally, television is identified as a factor in influencing desirable/undesirable health behavior.

In the next section of the introduction he discusses ideas, attitudes and beliefs about health and illness, and notes that some health behaviors/habits are well established in early childhood, before young people understand the impact of those behaviors on present or future health. When children go to school they are exposed to more systematic and reliable health information. They are also gaining the ability to judge and make decisions about some of their own health behaviors.

Hochbaum also suggests that the problem in helping young people establish patterns of healthy behavior is that often they cannot distinguish between desirable/ undesirable behaviors or health promoting/health threatening habits. …