Turkey has a major Type 2 Diabetes problem, with a prevalence more than 20% higher than in any other country in Europe1. Diabetes shortens lives, reduces their quality and is a major strain on health resources. Volunteers from AstraZeneca Turkey decided to tackle the roots of the problem head-on by working to combat obesity and inactivity in young people under its ‘Hey Youth-Take Action’ schools-based programme.
The volunteers came from throughout the company but all were united by the desire to make a difference – after all, as Gizem Şenyurt, a Corporate Communications Specialist, puts it, ‘these students could be our friends or family’.
The project is taking them into schools nationwide and aims directly to impact 11,000 students, with a mix of workshops and physical activity. The aim is to equip them with the knowledge and experience to help them make choices to become, and remain, healthy adults. By working with young people they are following the science which shows that this non-communicable disease is strongly linked to obesity and physical underactivity2 and that the underlying factors are often there in youth and childhood. Overweight children are at least twice as likely to become overweight adults compared with normal-weight children3.
For some of the volunteers, who are very familiar with the issues, it came as something of a shock to find that the students often knew little about healthy diet and physical activity. As Gizem noted ‘most of them are under-informed. They showed great interest in the information which makes me think that the program content was an important need in their education’, but the lively presentation moved this away from boring ‘chalk and talk’ to something truly interactive and motivating.
It was priceless to see that the youth is genuinely eager to change and learn
said Tolga San, a Congress & Meeting Executive.
The activity that volunteers and children enjoyed most was undoubtedly the parkour, in which teams used their coordination and agility to contest to complete a challenge course that was taken from school to school. ‘Most of them participated in such activities for the first time’, according to Hakan Şatana a Sales Manager ‘I enjoyed students’ excitement while working together for parkour activities and the effort they put in to compete’.
The volunteers also learned from the students: for example Pinar Kurt, a Senior Product Promotion Leader, saw that it was important to reach beyond the sporty children and to ‘encourage the ones that didn’t want to participate’, and aother noticed that ‘students were more participative during interactive content and games’. Gizem was particularly impressed by ‘the way students participated in the video contest, with encouragement from AstraZeneca mentors who helped them to identify content they could use in the videos’.
The initiative has so far produced evidence of its effectiveness through surveys carried out with students, before and after the events, to track progress. It has also demonstrated how well-known problems such as childhood obesity can still be tackled in new and interesting ways. Gizem concludes that ‘to make other such projects successful, they should be gamified and interactive’, Pinar agrees ‘I believe it is also very important that our partners are open to take feedback’.
Some of the feedback to AstraZeneca management was equally clear ‘making such major-scale projects for social responsibility made me feel proud to be an AstraZeneca employee’ said Pınar.
Hey Youth Take Action! Is just one of twenty-six on the ground programme that have been set up globally through the Young Health Programme since it started in 2010. As Helen Seibel Associate Director, Global Community Investment at puts it
every society and every opportunity is different, but we are committed to finding and delivering the interventions that help young people to live longer happier and more productive lives. Hey Youth Take Action! is a great example of innovation in practice and of the brilliant volunteering spirit we have here in AstraZeneca
1 The World Bank, 2019, Diabetes prevalence (% of population ages 20 to 79). Available at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.DIAB.ZS, accessed February 2019
2 Sullivan PW, Morrato EH, Ghushchyan V et al,, 2005, Obesity, Inactivity, and the Prevalence of Diabetes and Diabetes-Related Cardiovascular Comorbidities in the U.S., 2000–2002 . Available at http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/28/7/1599 accessed February 2019
3 Must A and Strauss RS, 1999, Risks and consequences of childhood and adolescent obesity, International Journal of Obesity (1999) 23, Suppl 2, S2±S11. Available at http://www.lawpack.taiwanlii.ccu.edu.tw/upload/data/data_article/Risks%20and%20consequences%20of%20childhood%20and%20adolescent%20obesity.pdf accessed February 2019