Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

Promoting Youth Physical Activity and Health Career Awareness in an African American Faith Community

Academic journal article International Public Health Journal

Promoting Youth Physical Activity and Health Career Awareness in an African American Faith Community

Article excerpt


Physical inactivity is a major public health problem in the United States that affects adolescents as well as adults. Three-quarters of teenagers do not meet physical activity recommendations, and their activity levels decline steadily with age, particularly among girls (1). Both education and income are associated with activity levels and obesity (2), and inactivity is exacerbated by living in poor urban areas where reduced funding for physical education programs, lack of enthusiasm/enjoyment for participation, and unsafe environments are more common (3).

In 2009, 82% of 9th to 12th grade students in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, did not participate in recommended levels of physical activity. African American females had the lowest levels, with 86% failing to meet physical activity guidelines (4). The predominantly African American Amani neighborhood in which the present study was conducted has the lowest socioeconomic status in the city, a large high school drop-out rate, and nearly half of the households are in poverty and headed by jobless adults (5).

As well as severe social challenges from violence and crime, the neighborhood has few health services or opportunities for exposure to health careers. Career awareness programs can help students make the transitions from high school to the more demanding secondary education level, and, in the case of health careers, establish positive attitudes toward those careers (6,7). Programs that raise youth awareness of more readily achievable health career options, such as two-year and non-physician track programs, may result in encouraging future health care providers who are more likely to serve in underrepresented communities and work to reduce related health disparities as described in Healthy People 2020 (8,9).

Churches have played an important role in improving health in African American faith communities through promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyle practices for adults (10,11). While well-planned health initiatives may be especially effective in reducing risks of chronic diseases in adult populations, little is known about the effectiveness of faith community health promotion programs that focus on youth or activity levels. Accordingly, when we developed a faith-based community-academic partnership to design and implement a one-year pilot intervention to improve activity in adolescents, we sought to combine physical activity with positive attitudes and knowledge about health and about potential careers in health. The partnership, called Guiding Youth Movement (GYM), included the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), Greater New Birth Church (GNBC), Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), and the Badgerland Striders (BLS). Objectives of the partnership program were to:

1. Train health advocates to model healthy lifestyle practices and assist in the promotion of health strategies and health career awareness for youth, and

2. Refine, implement, and evaluate a progressive youth physical activity, health promotion, and career awareness program.

Partners and program components

Program partners and responsibilities are described below. The Institutional Review Boards of both the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Area Technical College approved the study.

GYM Steering Committee. Community Partner - JS, MATC and Youth Running Director, BLS, Co-Principal Investigator, co-lead all training activities, directed the curriculum on fitness activities and educational sessions for youth and supervised MATC service-learning students; WD, GNBC, directed the enrollment and retention of project HAs and youth and was the project's liaison to GNBC; Academic Partner - JM, MCW, Principal Investigator, lead project evaluation, co-lead Health Advocate training activities, and co-lead dissemination activities with JS and WD; MD, MCW, managed Institutional Review Board submission, informed consent, and coordinated Steering Committee activities. …

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