Young people across Southend have been achieving the skills, knowledge, and confidence to qualify as Youth Health Champions.
Since the success of the first Youth Health Champions pilot in 2001, dozens of students from schools across the city have been successfully providing support, advice and information to their peers on a range of health topics important to them including mental health and exam stress, as well as strengthening Public Health messaging related to diet and vaping.
Organised by Essex-based Health Talks training and consultancy, the peer-to-peer approach sees the scheme delivered by young people for young people and encourages ownership and responsibility, which research shows leads to behaviour change and improved health outcomes.
Upon successful completion of the scheme, Youth Health Champions earn a bespoke qualification from the Royal Society for Public Health. Schools that have taken part in the scheme include Southend High School for Boys, St Thomas More High School, The St Christopher School, Belfairs Academy, Cecil Jones Academy, Southend High Schools for Girls, and Elective Home Educated Students.
Qualified Youth Health Champions from The St Christopher School and Belfairs Academy have even filmed a series of videos about why they think the Youth Health Champion scheme is great to get involved in.
The videos, which were filmed in conjunction with Health Talks, can be viewed online via Health Talks Director Alix Sheppard's YouTube account.
Alix Sheppard, director of Health Talks, said: “We wanted to make these videos with some of the young people who had successfully completed the scheme, to hopefully inspire other young people to get involved and help make a difference amongst their peers.
"What better way to do that than to hear directly from the young people who have qualified already as Youth Health Champions and are now thinking about their future health and career choices.
“Youth Health Champions provide peer support, advice and information to their friends, families, and communities, improving health outcomes and help reduce health inequalities. The series of videos we have produced enable the qualified champions to share their positive experiences across social media to a much wider audience.”
Cllr James Moyies, cabinet member for public health, added: “It's really inspiring to see such a positive impact being made by the Youth Health Champions scheme to both the young people taking part and their peers.
“We wanted to get involved with the scheme as a way of encouraging young people to take more responsibility for their own personal health and the daily decisions they make.
“Some young people ignore the fact that the decisions they make when they are younger will effect their lifelong health because they can't see or feel the immediate effects of bad habits related to things like poor diet and lack of exercise. However, better education on the potential damage these behaviours can cause to long-term health, can persuade young people to make better choices for themselves going forward.
“I'm very pleased that we decided to take this innovative approach and use peer-to-peer influence to embed behaviour change and help improve the long-term health outcomes of Southend's future generation.”
The Youth Health Champions scheme will now be offered to new schools with a view to starting in October.