WHY AND HOW TO INCLUDE WELLNESS IN YOUR PREVENTION
There are a number of vital reasons why including a wellness component with your next prevention program is crucial to its success. Here are a few.
First, while youth are at risk for initiating health damaging behaviors like alcohol, tobacco and drug use, they are also likely to lack sufficient health enhancing habits such as physical activity, healthy eating practices, getting adequate sleep, and practicing stress management. Typical American youth experience multiple and divergent co-existing health behavior problems.
Second, health risk and health enhancing habits are associated, and can either enhance or interfere with behavior initiation and change. For example, being physically active can have a positive influence in preventing the initiation of substance use, while substance abuse will often negatively impact a youth’s ability to start an exercise program as well as remain active and fit.
Third, by including wellness goals in your prevention efforts, you can increase the breadth of your prevention program outcomes beyond a single behavior or single behavior category (e.g., substance use). By adding wellness, prevention programs can become more holistic and likely to achieve positive youth development outcomes.
Lastly, by targeting positive health enhancing behaviors in your prevention programs, you increase program salience for young people, thereby enhancing youth participation as well as participation maintenance.
Since including wellness in your prevention efforts is important to program success, how can you make it happen? Here are three suggestions.
Suggestion #1: Find existing evidence-based prevention programs that include wellness. While there are very few research-based substance abuse prevention programs that target wellness goals, some can be found.
Search the federal government’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) website at: http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/, or Blueprints for Violence Prevention evidence-based program website at: http://ibs.colorado.edu/cspv/blueprintsquery/. Use health behavior search terms like sports, physical activity, healthy eating, sleep, and stress management to find prevention programs that set broader, positive multiple health behavior goals.
You can also look at the Brief Programs for Health website at: www.preventionpluswelllness.com to learn about evidence-based brief motivational interventions. These brief programs have been shown to prevent substance use while increasing health promoting habits and positive self-identity among adolescents and young adults in clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Suggestion #2: Create your own prevention messages that link risk behaviors to health enhancing behaviors and positive outcomes. These messages should emphasize positive images resulting from engaging in health promoting behaviors. Appealing images are particularly salient to youth and powerful in motivating their health behavior initiation and change.
First, develop and use health messages that show how specific risk behaviors interfere with achievement of concrete health enhancing habits and their positive outcomes. For example, “Drinking alcohol can get in the way of your plans to be physically active and fit. Alcohol use can lead to weight gain, make you feel sluggish, and reduce your drive to exercise regularly and win at sports.”
Then, create and provide messages that illustrate how avoiding the same risk habits can increase their ability to engage in the identical health enhancing habits, as well as experience positive outcomes and images. For example, “By deciding to avoid alcohol use, you have made an important decision to live a fit and active lifestyle. Staying away from alcohol will help you participate in sports and all types of physical activities, as well as stay slim and athletic.”
Suggestion #3: Develop a multiple behavior health goal plan. After providing prevention messages that link risk habits with health enhancing behaviors, give participating youth an opportunity to identify and choose from a menu of health goals.
This goal plan is broader than typical strategies that target one or two health habits. Instead, create a unique goal plan that provides youth an opportunity to select goals to avoid and reduce alcohol, tobacco and drug use, but also increase healthy habits like participating in sports, physical activity, eating more healthy foods, getting more sleep, and practicing stress management activities.
Develop a plan with goals using a short-term period, like for the next week or month. This will provide youth with more immediate feedback and opportunities for adjusting their goals based on successes or challenges.
Lastly, create the plan so that after youth have listed their concrete goals, they can sign their plan and have someone else co-sign it with them. This action cements their public commitment and increases their motivation to set and monitor specific behavior goals.
One caveat to developing your own wellness-infused prevention messages and goal plans is to make sure you test them out on a sample of your youth population before implementing them wide scale. First, make sure that youth like the new messages and plan, and second, that they have shown potential to influence their future target behaviors.
In conclusion, it is critical for health, education and fitness specialists to include wellness into their prevention efforts. This can involve selecting existing evidence-based programs that have already been shown to impact multiple health behaviors, or develop and evaluate your own multiple behavior prevention messages and goal plans. Either way, you will be increasing the success potential of your future prevention efforts.