Using positive images and content in substance use prevention programs has several advantages over typical prevention programs that communicate negative messages. Positive prevention is likely to be more interesting, increase and sustain participation, and result in multiple health behavior improvements.
But there is one more benefit to using positive images and content in substance abuse prevention programs. That benefit is to increase healthy body image.
The evidence-based SPORT Prevention Plus Wellness program for youth and the InShape Prevention Plus Wellness program for college-aged young adults integrate substance abuse avoidance messages with positive images and content showing youth engaged in fitness and health-promoting behaviors.
These two programs have well-established evidence of their effectiveness to prevent alcohol, marijuana and other substance use and problems, while also improving healthy habits.
What About Body Image?
But what about body image? Can integrated Prevention Plus Wellness programs targeting positive images of young people enhance body image?
An answer to this question is found in a research study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2121592/). This study examined students attending a university health clinic who were randomized to receive either a health behavior contract, or an early version of the InShape tailored consultation with or without the contract.
College students receiving the InShape Prevention Plus Wellness program showed significantly greater body image satisfaction as compared to those receiving the contract only. These findings indicate that the InShape Prevention Plus Wellness program (PPW), like it’s counterpart the SPORT PPW program, are likely to improve body image.
Why Improved Body Image?
Why would a screening and brief intervention that targets positive fitness and health images of young people like InShape or SPORT Prevention Plus Wellness improve body image? Some likely reasons are that Prevention Plus Wellness programs:
1) Highlight both image and non-image positive outcomes to broaden message reach and effectiveness. For example, highlighting non-image effects like getting more and better sleep, and having more energy and improved physical and school performance.
2) State that being fit does not mean being “perfect,” and that each participant’s main goal is to have a healthy body image and not engage in unhealthy ways to control or lose weight.
3) Use image terms and illustrations that support healthy body image. These include: a) using feel good image terms like “feeling confident and strong;” b) showing a diversity of healthy looking youth models of different sizes, gender, and ethnicities; and c) focusing on and recommending concrete healthy behavior goals supported by federal health agencies.
4) Permit organizations the option to remove any appearance-based image terms that may not be a good fit with participating youth or young adults, and allow tailoring of illustrations in program slides to better reflect the demographics of their population.
5) Prevention Plus Wellness programs counter today's all too common practice of "body shaming," by providing healthy images and empowering youth and young adults to choose from a range of desired future images as values for setting concrete health and fitness-enhancing goals.
In conclusion, integrated Prevention Plus Wellness programs using positive fitness and health images and messages have a number of key advantages over typical substance abuse prevention programs for youth and young adults.
Not only are wellness-focused positive prevention programs more effective in preventing substance use and increasing healthy habits, but they are body positive and can promote improved body image satisfaction.
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