Running behaviour change programmes with young people to help to transform their life chances can be inspiring, energising and great fun. Typically though they last only a few years and only target a few communities.
How can the expertise and insights that result be built upon, and programmes scaled up and kept going into the future? NCD Child brought together young people, programme managers and child health experts from across Europe for a workshop in Bucharest, Romania to find out.
The projects ranged from intensive interventions with rough sleepers around Hamburg’s main railway station to a schools-based programme in Romania working with tens of thousands. Programmes were in every stage of development and execution from initial concepts to final evaluation.
What they all shared was a vision of equipping and supporting young people to make behaviour choices that could help them to live longer, healthier and happier lives.
This workshop was the fifth in a series from NCD Child that had been supported by the Young Health Programme. In keeping with YHP’s collaborative approach it brought together projects both from inside and outside the YHP ’family’.
Most of the projects have a strong focus on co-working and ‘peer-education’ rather than teaching. This was also true in the workshop. As Vladica Jovanovic put it ‘I came expecting a group of experts with 20+ years of experience and with strong views. I was instead welcomed by the team who knew all about me and the work we are looking to do in YHP in Serbia, [they] were excited that people like me were joining the conversation and wanted to hear more from me’.
The speakers also provided an update on the rapidly changing policy landscape, especially on NCDs, and how to gain government support and action to support and expand their programmes. Minds were also focused by the opportunity to win $10,000 in support for the best advocacy programme.
Preventing risky behaviours in youth that lead to NCDs later has historically been given less attention than many other aspects of healthcare. 70% of world deaths were caused by NCDs such as heart and respiratory diseases, cancers and diabetes in 20151; and in many developing countries the proportion of young people is huge - 43% of India’s population are aged under 212. Despite this funding and support has been often very limited.
This now seems to be changing. One of the 169 targets in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) directly addressed NCDs: ‘By 2030, to reduce by one third premature mortality from NCDs through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being’ (target 3.4). Other targets addressed risk behaviours such as smoking, alcohol and substance misuse, that often have their roots in adolescence. As the SDGs provide the focus for the work of many health ministries and other stakeholders this provides an opportunity to put behaviour change programmes for young people on the map.
Even better, global and national progress is being reviewed by heads of government and senior ministers at the UN’s High-level Meeting on NCDs in 2018. This new attention will raise the profile of work to encourage behaviour change in young people and help NCD prevention initiatives become more mainstream. It also presents a great opportunity for organisers of successful programmes to gain institutional support.
Programmes still need to deliver, and demonstrate their results, in order to get more support. As Loredana Poenaru from Junior Achievement Romania, a YHP partner, put it: ‘We truly believe that the best way for advocacy is by doing and we were proud to present our initiative “I <heart> sport” as part of Young Health Program and as model of success and sustainable partnership’.
2. India Census 2011 http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/C-series/C-13.html