Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Empowering Youth to Take Charge of Their Health

Guest article written by Peter Berg
Young people are in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis. For the first time young people have ailments that used to be limited to adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control (2013), childhood obesity has doubled in young children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Type 2 diabetes, a disease normally seen in adults over 40, is on the rise in children and adolescents (Centers for Disease Control, 2013). The number of cases of nonalcoholic fatter liver disease in young people over the age of 10 is on the rise (Vajro et al., 2012).
These are not the only health issues today’s young people are faced with. As the info-graphic below shows, mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar and mood disorders are prevalent in adolescents and young adults. The World Health Organization (2012) estimates that 20 percent of adolescents worldwide experience a mental health problem every year.

Source: Alyssa Celebre via Nomad Creatives
Add in the approximately 3.5 million young people that are taking medications for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the fact that some estimates suggest that half of young people, ages 6 to 21, in the United States have some form of learning disability, it’s no wonder that many young people today feel confused, out of touch with themselves and powerless to do anything to change their situation. 
Here’s the good news! These statistics can be changed and young people can take charge of their health. This is the focus of my work at have witnessed these statistics firsthand and believe that young people need to know that they have a say in how their life unfolds.
Young people are often confused by the mixed messages they receive about health from the media, family, friends and society at large.  On one hand, they are shown unrealistic images of lean-muscled female and male bodies that are airbrushed and/or touched up to hide imperfections as the ultimate in health; these images are confusing, unrealistic and represent a limited view of health.
While the people in these images may indeed be healthy, we have no real way of knowing that. On the other hand, young people are told to be healthy and that being healthy is important, yet they are surrounded by a sea of junk, imitations and distorted views of life that are available 24 hours a day.
They are bombarded with advertising images specifically developed for their age group with their developmental needs, wants and desires factored in.
So what can we do? In my work, I empower young people to take charge of their health and be the masters of their lives.  One of the main ways to do this is to help young people know themselves. Giving young people time to reflect, think and be still is key in helping them getting to know themselves, what they need, and ultimately, what works for them. 
As young people get to know themselves, they begin to understand the needs they share with others and the needs that are unique to them.  In turn, this also increases their ability to empathize with others.  Knowing their unique needs is an important step in young people’s ability to make decisions that are best for them.
Support from adults is key in empowering young people to take charge of their health and be the masters of their lives.  This is especially important when making lifestyle changes. In essence, all of the work is about making changes that become a way of life, not an add-on or a chore.
Another key area I focus on is healthy eating. This doesn't mean going on a ‘diet.’  It’s about finding ways to eat foods that are delicious, nutritious and work best for each individual young person.  Sometimes this is about a shift towards eating more whole foods; other times it is about transitioning from patterns of behavior that result in unhealthy eating habits. Most of the time it’s about the young person being empowered to make the best food choices for them based on self-knowledge, exploration and careful consideration.

Peter Berg, A.B.D, M.S., C.H.H.C.
The founder of Youth Transformations and Educational, is a board certified holistic health and mental health coach, a teacher, educational administrator, community organizer, educational consultant, school developer, national trainer and an expert in and an advocate for alternative and integrated education. He has written extensively on alternative, holistic, integrated educational theory and techniques and has founded and co-founded non-profit community and environmental-based organizations.
Peter received his Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies and Education from Antioch University and is currently finishing his Doctoral research at Walden University, which explores the ties between school leadership and progressive and holistic education.
Peter maintains partnerships and affiliations with organizations that promote sustainability, social and environmental justice, human rights and holistic health.  Often this work entails bringing these organizations together to form partnerships and exchange ideas. Peter has consulted on various start-up schools throughout the country and continues to offer consultations to national and international organizations, schools and individuals.