Promoting youth leadership for healthy, successful futures

UnitedHealthcare and National 4-H Council have partnered on healthy living initiatives for youth and families since 2011. With UnitedHealthcare’s support, 4-H has educated more than 400,000 youth and their families in 18 states on nutrition and healthy eating.

This year together we have launched a new program, 4-H Healthy Futures, which aims to support health and economic mobility for youth from low-income families. The program combines career preparation programming, wellness education, and youth leadership to promote healthy, successful futures for young people.

4-H Healthy Futures provides age-appropriate career education for children and youth in kindergarten to eighth grades. Through this program, children learn skills such as communication, problem solving, and critical thinking. For teens, the program provides exposure to potential careers in health care and offers lessons in public speaking, time management, interpersonal communication, and team work. Youth also learn about making healthy choices through lessons and activities on nutrition and healthy food, the importance of physical activity, mindfulness, and health care.

The program is led by 4-H health educators with the support of teen Healthy Living Ambassadors. These teen Ambassadors help deliver lessons to younger youth, demonstrating their knowledge of nutrition, physical activity, and life-skills while practicing public speaking, flexibility, and problem solving. Positioning teens as leaders helps them develop skills and confidence in a supportive environment while providing younger participants with positive teen role models. In the words of one Healthy Living Ambassador, “I feel like a role model. Before I was involved [with 4-H], I didn’t know that much about healthy living…it’s like I’m teaching myself, when I was in their shoes.”

4-H Healthy Futures is grounded in research published last year by National 4-H Council and the Bridgespan Group. In an effort to understand how to better support youth (particularly in rural areas) achieve upward mobility, the team conducted focus group interviews with more than 200 individuals and community leaders in 19 rural communities in Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Nebraska. They identified six common factors that help youth advance:

  • An expectation that youth will “opt in” and work hard to build skills for a better future
  • Strong, informal support systems with neighbors helping neighbors
  • An early focus on career pathways
  • Opportunities for youth to build life skills
  • Creative solutions for overcoming challenges to accessing opportunities
  • A deep commitment to sustaining the community

Between July 2019 and June 2020, the program will engage more than 6,800 teens and youth in Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Tennessee. 4-H will measure and evaluate changes in youth knowledge and behavior around post-secondary career and education options, healthy food choices, and positive relationships.

The well-rounded approach of 4-H Healthy Futures aims to support children and teens to be healthy and successful today, and into the future.

For more information about 4-H Healthy Futures, visit the UnitedHealthcare and National 4-H Council websites. 

Read more from Eleanor Beaber

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