In a crowd-favorite presentation during the Global Diabetes Summit, Bernadette Melnyk said, we all know people don’t change behavior easily, which is why she has focused much of her career on helping teens making healthy behavior changes to help them live healthier with a focus on mental health.
17 percent of teens are obese or overweight, but one in four adolescents has a mental health problem and less than 25 percent receive any treatment. According to Melnyk, substantial studies that shows that in overweight teens, the more likely they are to have a mental health disorder. These mental health conditions make it hard for teens to picture themselves even living healthy lifestyles. And in many studies when behaviors have been modified in studies and short-term gains have been achieved in high-risk populations, teens gained the weight back.
Melnyk’s secret sauce to this problem is her COPE program, which focuses on thinking, emotion, exercise, nutrition in hopes of decreasing teen’s doubts and increasing their ability make changes. In other words, if you teach teens to think differently, they can act differently.
In each session, after working on goal setting, emotional coping skills, behavior therapy and more, the teens get up and moving with a “wheel of fitness” where they learn various activities and movement, which are all designed to be done in the middle of the classroom. They also learn about nutrition like social eating, portion sizes and nutrition labels. In the final sessions of the after-school program, they integrate how to put all these together and help the teens make a lifestyle plan.
Melnyk’s study showed many positives results from a decrease in BMI to decreases in depressive and anxiety symptoms. The purpose of her current study is to evaluate the efficacy of COPE/Healthy Lifestyles TEEN (thinking, emotions, exercise and nutrition) program on the healthy lifestyle behaviors, BMI, mental health and academic outcomes of 779 high school 14-16 year old adolescents. The key regarding many of these findings in implementation. So she said: why does this matter to schools and why should they enact the COPE program?
She is also measuring academic outcomes and found that because of the cognitive behavioral skills the teens learned, they can improve their academic skill level because of the confidence and coping skills they learn in the program.
The COPE program will be used as either a preventive or management intervention program for overweight/obesity in adolescents. The program is now being developed so that it can be implemented in schools across the country. Her work in also now ongoing to adapt the program for school-age child and college-age youth.
Has focusing on your mental health ever helped you through an illness? How can we get more teens to learn the importance of improving their mental health?