ntegrating prevention and health strategies by targeting multiple, diverse youth behaviors is quickly emerging as the future of prevention and health practice. Health, prevention and fitness leaders are calling for interventions that go beyond distinct programs targeting single health behaviors and problems. Instead, programs are needed which address the whole youth by combining strategies aimed at avoiding health damaging habits while also increasing health enhancing behaviors.

One example of the recent emphasis on integrating strategies is seen in the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors publication “Integrating Mental Health into Chronic Disease Prevention Strategies for Youth: An Opportunity for Change” (http://www.chronicdisease.org/resource/resmgr/school_health/integration_of_mental_health.pdf?hhSearchTerms=integrating+and+mental+and+health). This document highlights the need for and advantages of holistic programs that address the broader physical and mental health needs of youth.

Linking Prevention with Health Promotion

Programs linking co-existing risk behavior prevention with health promotion strategies are equally needed and advantageous. For example, integrated interventions take into account the critical reciprocal interrelations among youth health habits. In doing so, they hold potential for broader and synergistic effects, along with cost savings resulting from more efficient interventions that address multiple rather than single risks.

Prevention, health and fitness providers lack practical models showing how to weave prevention and wellness messages that concurrently protect and improve the overall health of young people. One rare available framework which has already proven useful is the Behavior-Image Model (BIM).

BIM is a conceptual map for planning combined prevention and health programs. To be effective and stay current, practitioners should understand the advantages of using an integrated model in general, and the Behavior-Image Model in particular, for improving the global health and wellbeing of their youth and young adult populations.

Below are the key differences between the existing prevention and health model, and the new integrated approach.

The Current Prevention and Health Model

Most prevention and health promotion programs are limited to focusing on a single risk or health behavior, or a small group of highly related behaviors. For example, many prevention programs are designed to prevent tobacco use, or alcohol use, or perhaps more broadly “drug use”. Similarly, health promotion interventions are also likely to be restricted to a single behavior goal like promoting physical activity, or increasing healthy eating, and sometimes will target physical activity and healthy eating together in an effort to prevent or mitigate a solitary health disorder such as obesity or diabetes.

The New Integrated Model

The main tenant of integrated approaches, such as the Behavior-Image Model, is to develop prevention and health programs which address multiple health behaviors from dissimilar health problems. For example, integrated prevention programs should target not only health risk habits, but health enhancing behaviors as well. Likewise, health promotion programs should address not just health improving habits, but also risk behaviors.

For prevention practice, this means setting goals to increase health behaviors such as physical activity, healthy eating, getting adequate sleep and practicing stress management, in addition to preventing and reducing multiple risk habits like tobacco, alcohol and marijuana consumption. Likewise, for health promotion practice, it means designing strategies to prevent various risk factors like tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use, while at the same time increasing a number of health enhancing habits such as physical activity, healthy nutrition, sleep and stress management.

Integrated prevention interventions are therefore no longer limited to targeting risk behaviors, and likewise, integrated health promotion programs are not restricted to those habits believed to enhance health. Instead, the primary purpose of integrated prevention and health promotion strategies converge, with both strategies emphasizing the synchronized achievement of prevention AND health goals.

Examples of Integrated Strategies

The number and of types of health risk and health enhancing behaviors that can be included in an integrated intervention are limited only by the creativity of the program developer. For example, we’ve successfully combined risk behaviors like alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use, as well as HIV/STD risk habits, along with health promoting habits of sports participation, physical activity and exercise, healthy eating, sleep, and stress management into a single integrated program. One of our most comprehensive programs targeted behaviors related with school and career success, along with multiple risk and health habits, showing that integrated programs can be developed to increase even broader positive youth development.

The optimal number of behavioral targets one can include in an integrated intervention to maximize effectiveness is not presently known. In addition, what combinations of health risk, health promoting and personal development behaviors are most desirable and efficacious is also unknown at this time. Only creative experimentation by curious practitioners and researchers will answer these questions and lead to better understanding of what integrated strategies work best for protecting and enhancing the overall health of specific youth populations.

The Future of Prevention and Health Practice

In conclusion, prevention, health and fitness professionals are realizing that effective strategies no longer have to be limited in the number and types of behaviors targeted. Today a new model is being adopted showing that integrating more and different types of behaviors is better than narrowly targeting just one or two habits of the same kind. The future of prevention and health practice is in integrating strategies to advance the broader health and wellbeing of youth.

While the Behavior-Image Model is a rare framework for planning integrated prevention and health programs, it is also an innovative approach for creating positive image content in brief motivational intervention format. We’ll discuss more about the use of positive image messages and the advantages of brief interventions in future blogs.

If you’d like to read more about how we have successfully used BIM to develop integrated prevention AND health programs, or sign up to receive future blogs, go to our website:http://www.preventionpluswellness.com/.

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