Utilizing peer engagement to encourage and sustain healthy lifestyles

Published: 16 May 2014 15:34 CET

By Katherine Wilkes and Aradhna Duggal

It is not uncommon to see frail, malnourished children walking the streets or sitting in Armenia’s classrooms. Ironically, a quarter of all children are also obese as a result of unhealthy diets.

Compared to 63 per cent of deaths globally, an overwhelming 90 per cent of all deaths in Armenia are attributed to cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, which are also known as noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).  

Although these diseases can often be prevented, communities sometimes lack the means to make positive changes such as access to nutritious, quality ingredients, the expertise to produce their own food or a basic grounding in healthy habits.

The Armenian Red Cross Society is on the ground to help the most at-risk population: children. As part of the Healthy Generation project, trained Red Cross youth volunteers visit local schools as peer health ambassadors to spread a critical message through an interactive approach. The project started in 2011 in partnership with local dairy company Ashtarak Kat and the Ministry of Education.

Students look forward to these visits as they can put their creativity to use during poster contests, games and sporting activities. They’re learning how to eat a well-balanced diet, recycle and reuse goods, incorporate exercise throughout the day and conserve energy and electricity.

Activities are designed for, and by, young people enabling students to relate to one another and connect actions to results. Moreover, these basic, but important lessons result in people learning how to live longer, healthier lives.

The results speak for themselves. Healthy Generation has reached more than 1,600 children, and in an assessment at the end of the programme, 92 per cent of children said they would be willing to change their nutritional habits.

Projects like Healthy Generation can result in long-term change by encouraging healthy habits early. Red Cross volunteers like those in Armenia are able to identify the needs of their own community and provide peer support while working with local partners. These preventative investments will ultimately reduce the impact of NCDs worldwide.

Learn more

Join us in the conversation on 19 May as the discussion on NCDs gain momentum at the side event of the 67th World Health Assembly. Follow the hashtags #4HealthyHabits and #WHA67.

Or learn more about the Armenian Red Cross Society work on NCDs.

WHA67 web page