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Caswell high school students collaborate with UNC students to research barriers and facilitators to a healthy lifestyle

By CED Program Interns & Students

Published April 8, 2010


Peter Balvanz is a graduate student in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Students from the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health are in the process of conducting a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project with a group of high school students in Caswell County.  Peter Balvanz, Leilani Ogan, and Jeff Quinn are using Photovoice to co-investigate with the youth their perception on what keeps them healthy and what gets in the way of health.  Through this project youth develop weekly photo topics relating to health and take representative digital photographs throughout the week.

The first two photo topics developed by high school participants have included:

  • What keeps me healthy and unhealthy as an individual, particularly looking at addictions
  • Healthy and unhealthy places

At follow up meetings the youth collectively choose a photo or two they believe best represents the photo topic to serve as a trigger for discussion.  UNC students then facilitate a discussion based on the ORID method where a series of questions are asking participants to: Observe, Reflect, Interpret, and Decide what can be done to address concerns.

So far we’ve learned in our sessions that youth are exposed to numerous unhealthy agents present in their surroundings including alcohol, prescription drugs, tobacco, and excess candy and soda.  Of these, alcohol has been mentioned repeatedly in our discussions as a temptation affecting a wide age range of individuals.  Participants mentioned that a multitude of advertisements, curiosity when they see others drinking from brown bags, relatively low prices, and peer pressure factored in to their opinions of alcohol.

The group referred to text messaging as their biggest addiction, many stating that they would be depressed without their phones.  Texting serves as a primary communication pathway to improve or hamper health.  Some participants seek the social support offered by a friend and will text to find an exercise partner.  Some participants mentioned that the text served as a way to notify others about future parties that may serve alcohol.  All agreed that this easy and fast means of communication allowed them to speak their mind without potential embarrassment.

During the discussion of healthy and unhealthy places, participants contrasted photographs of a dilapidated building and a favorite mom and pop shop in town.  The group discussed how the site of the run down business was being used for people to hang out, drink alcohol, and potentially engage in other risky behaviors.  All agreed that the sight made them sad, showed a lack of care within the community, and even tempted them to participate.  Most mentioned a fear of walking by such buildings.

In contrast, participant tone changed considerably when discussing the mom and pop shop.  All agreed that the store was visibly welcoming, employees are helpful, and that everyone there remembers your name.  Participants noted that while several places in Caswell County make them feel good like the mom and pop shop, if more of the dilapidated buildings were renovated or loitering was patrolled better, then they would feel safer and be more appreciative of their town.

Participants also commented on the relatively high price of fruits and vegetables in their vicinity as compared to less healthy processed food.  One commented that inexpensive health food is more readily available across the border to Danville, Virginia, but transportation costs eliminate the benefit.  Most participants agreed that implementing a community garden would give them better access to fresh vegetables, but noted that being able to plant what they want is important.

At present, most participants and their classmates drive to Danville, Virginia for shopping and entertainment.  They noted that additional facilities such as a roller rink or a swimming pool near town would give them more accessible and structured activities, but understand prohibitive costs associated with this addition.  They lament the general apathy among citizens, fear that this will be passed down through generations, and hope that the community can come together to collaborate for change.

Published April 8, 2010 By CED Program Interns & Students

Peter Balvanz is a graduate student in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Students from the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health are in the process of conducting a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project with a group of high school students in Caswell County.  Peter Balvanz, Leilani Ogan, and Jeff Quinn are using Photovoice to co-investigate with the youth their perception on what keeps them healthy and what gets in the way of health.  Through this project youth develop weekly photo topics relating to health and take representative digital photographs throughout the week.

The first two photo topics developed by high school participants have included:

  • What keeps me healthy and unhealthy as an individual, particularly looking at addictions
  • Healthy and unhealthy places

At follow up meetings the youth collectively choose a photo or two they believe best represents the photo topic to serve as a trigger for discussion.  UNC students then facilitate a discussion based on the ORID method where a series of questions are asking participants to: Observe, Reflect, Interpret, and Decide what can be done to address concerns.

So far we’ve learned in our sessions that youth are exposed to numerous unhealthy agents present in their surroundings including alcohol, prescription drugs, tobacco, and excess candy and soda.  Of these, alcohol has been mentioned repeatedly in our discussions as a temptation affecting a wide age range of individuals.  Participants mentioned that a multitude of advertisements, curiosity when they see others drinking from brown bags, relatively low prices, and peer pressure factored in to their opinions of alcohol.

The group referred to text messaging as their biggest addiction, many stating that they would be depressed without their phones.  Texting serves as a primary communication pathway to improve or hamper health.  Some participants seek the social support offered by a friend and will text to find an exercise partner.  Some participants mentioned that the text served as a way to notify others about future parties that may serve alcohol.  All agreed that this easy and fast means of communication allowed them to speak their mind without potential embarrassment.

During the discussion of healthy and unhealthy places, participants contrasted photographs of a dilapidated building and a favorite mom and pop shop in town.  The group discussed how the site of the run down business was being used for people to hang out, drink alcohol, and potentially engage in other risky behaviors.  All agreed that the sight made them sad, showed a lack of care within the community, and even tempted them to participate.  Most mentioned a fear of walking by such buildings.

In contrast, participant tone changed considerably when discussing the mom and pop shop.  All agreed that the store was visibly welcoming, employees are helpful, and that everyone there remembers your name.  Participants noted that while several places in Caswell County make them feel good like the mom and pop shop, if more of the dilapidated buildings were renovated or loitering was patrolled better, then they would feel safer and be more appreciative of their town.

Participants also commented on the relatively high price of fruits and vegetables in their vicinity as compared to less healthy processed food.  One commented that inexpensive health food is more readily available across the border to Danville, Virginia, but transportation costs eliminate the benefit.  Most participants agreed that implementing a community garden would give them better access to fresh vegetables, but noted that being able to plant what they want is important.

At present, most participants and their classmates drive to Danville, Virginia for shopping and entertainment.  They noted that additional facilities such as a roller rink or a swimming pool near town would give them more accessible and structured activities, but understand prohibitive costs associated with this addition.  They lament the general apathy among citizens, fear that this will be passed down through generations, and hope that the community can come together to collaborate for change.

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