What is health promotion and how to promote health effectively among the youngest?

Health promotion is the action that enable people to increase control over their own health. Therefore, it covers a wide range of social and environmental interventions that are designed to benefit and protect individual people’s health and quality of life by addressing and preventing the root causes of ill health, not just focusing on treatment and cure. According to WHO, since Ottawa, there are 3 key elements that makes Health promotion effective. Namely:

• Good governance for health so that policy makers should make health a central line of government policy.
• Health literacy so that people have the necessary knowledge, skills and information to make healthy choices, and have financial, social and environmental opportunities to make these choices.
• Healthy Cities/Urban Health which means leadership and commitment at both central and municipal level for planning and build up preventive measures in communities (and primary health care facilities).

Health promotion implies a strong understanding of the interaction of these 3 elements, because suddenly everyone is an actor in the system. In other words, a well constructed approach to health should take into account cultural, social and psychological perspectives among the others. Those of you that are psychologists, sociologist, epidemiologists and/or population health scientists understand pieces of this puzzle, how people become engaged with these pieces, how community support this process, and how this process can promote individual and community health.

Health promotion and adolescent’s misbehavior

One of the most critical element to be considered in making effective Health promotion is the so-called vulnerable/fragile population. And among these the adolescent and their role in the community.

Let me clarify the term adolescent. By this term I mean those who are neither children nor adults but they have social needs belongings to both. The adolescent is therefore a quite complex psycho-social individual!! When children advance from elementary through middle school, they face new and challenging social, family, and academic situations. Often during this period, children are exposed to substances such as cigarettes, drugs and alcohol for the first time. When they enter high school, teens may encounter greater availability of drugs, drug use by older teens, and social activities where drugs are used.

We have been there! Risk-taking is a normal part of the human development. The desire to try new things and become more independent is healthy, but it may also increase teens' tendencies to fail in this trial and errors growth due to also vulnerability to peer pressure. Moreover, adolescents have a different set of developmental goals and needs that make it a relevant stage to understand how community participation affects healthy development.

For example, according to Erikson 1, a major developmental task of adolescence is identity formation, which includes defining one's role in relation to society, suggesting that youth engagement within their communities is an important part of development. Communication suddenly represents one of the most effective tool of engagement to sustain a correct growth of the adolescent. And overall the growth of the all community, teachers, parents, students as part of one system. According to the evidence an effective engaging action should include:

• Family prevention programmes: e. g. strengthening protective factors through the family, including increasing family bonding and using appropriate discipline.
• Community/school prevention programmes: e. g. introducing programmes at an early-age (pre-school/first grade) to address risk factors for later substance abuse.
• Role of healthcare providers: e. g. introduce and perform at primary care provision level screening for substance abuse and counselling at early stages.

Health Promotion and effective communication

Today, thanks also to the new media, we live an historical period in which a good communication is fundamental to connect to the younger generation.

Interpersonal Communication and social marketing serve to influence and empower individuals, populations, and communities to make healthier choices promoting positive changes in attitudes and behaviors. They can address elements such as:

• Increase risk perception
• Reinforce positive behaviors
• Influence social norms
• Increase availability of support and needed services

Effective health communication strategies should therefore include components such as:

• Use of research-based strategies to shape materials and products and to select the best channels that deliver them to the intended audience.
• Understanding of language and priorities for different cultures and settings.
• Consideration of health literacy, internet access and social/mass media exposure of target populations (including exposure to fake news very common not only among the young generation).

Recommendations for the audience

• Creating environments that will encourage adolescents to visit health facilities;
• Enhance client-provider interactions by training health care providers on interpersonal communication and counseling and by increasing adolescents access to information;
• Introduce innovative communication approaches and channels to disseminate key health messages;
• Support good public-private partnerships on health promotion;

1 Erikson EH, Identity: youth and crisis. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 1968.