What physicians can do to promote teen health

Sara Berg
Senior Staff Writer
AMA Wire
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There are more than a billion adolescents in the world. Comprising one of the largest segments of the world’s population, this age group experiences rapid physical and emotional growth that is different than the needs of children and adults. And health behaviors that result in illness later in life often begin during a person’s teen years. To raise awareness about adolescent health, physicians should consider participating in Teen Health Week.

The first global celebration of Teen Health Week takes place March 18–24. A 90-minute kickoff event in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, will feature a yoga and mindfulness program for teens, young adults and their families. Each day will focus on a major aspect of adolescent health, including:

  • Violence prevention.
  • Preventive care and vaccines.
  • Oral health.
  • Sexual health.
  • Mental health.
  • Substance use.
  • Healthy diet and exercise.

Physicians and their health care teams can download toolkits to help implement daily activities. The event also comes with its own color, lime green, and Twitter hashtag: #2018TeenHealth.

“Parents and teens look to physicians for guidance and leadership about health related issues and answers to health questions,” said Laura Offutt, MD, an internist and founder of Teen Health Week. “[It] focuses on the holistic aspects of adolescent health, rather than on a specific medical problem and also emphasizes that good health now and into adulthood, is what helps teens achieve their dreams.”

Through participation, physicians can provide information to their patients and community that helps to dispel common myths that both teens and adults often believe about adolescent health related issues.

“Putting together a week that felt more like a celebration—parties, lime green spirit wear, youth planning and engagement—captured what I love about health and encouraging others to be healthy as a physician, but also with the potential to inspire young people to be more engaged in their own health and to learn to advocate for themselves,” said Dr. Offutt.

At the 2016 AMA Interim Meeting, the House of Delegates adopted a resolution to encourage state and specialty medical associations across the nation to promote and participate in Teen Health Week, along with relevant government agencies and health care organizations.

Not too late to participate

Teen Health Week began in 2016 as a Pennsylvania initiative and now includes more than 27 states and 36 countries. For physicians and health care professionals interested in participating, it’s easy. Here are five things you can do to be part of this global health initiative.

Wear lime green. By wearing this color, physicians and their teams can show their support for adolescent health. Practices can also purchase lime green bandages, tooth brushes or other inexpensive lime green items to pass out to adolescent patients during Teen Health Week. Using the hashtag #2018TeenHealth, share photos of your team wearing lime green in support of adolescent health awareness.

Share educational resources. Education is important and sharing online health resources with your adolescent patients and their parents is the first step. You can do this by placing educational information printed on lime green paper in the waiting room or exam rooms for easy access. Physician practices can also share educational materials with a local school or by promoting their own practice’s involvement with these materials by using pre-made Teen Health Week logos or lime green paper.

Specialists are encouraged to take part in Teen Health Week as well. For example, dermatologists can share information about acne or use the week to educate teens about the dangers of tanning beds.

Reach out. Contact a local school or youth-based organization in your community to share that you or your practice supports Teen Health Week. Encourage them to participate by letting them know toolkits are available to make the process easy to implement. And if you’re politically active, contact your representative about Teen Health Week. This allows you to voice your expert opinion on an adolescent health issue that government policy might directly impact.

Be social. Toolkits offer pre-made social media posts containing teen health facts for each day of the week. Use these posts to share on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #2018TeenHealth. And encourage your team to share these posts as well. Logos are also available for download to accompany Facebook events and other posts.

Use the toolkit. After you’ve bookmarked the Teen Health Week website, download one or more of the toolkits available for additional ideas and further inspiration. Each toolkit highlights daily topics, activities, social media posts and other resources for physicians and their teams.

“Each year more and more adolescent advocates across a wide range of professions focused on youth well-being take part and are interested in being part of this growing grass roots initiative,” said Dr. Offutt. “It’s not too late to be a part of it.”

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