Category Archives: health week

Lace Up Your Sneakers and Get on the Path to Healthy Living

By Liz Peters, Editorial Intern

What do you usually do after school? Homework?  An extra-curricular activity? Maybe watch TV, play video games and log onto Facebook? You are not alone; many teens do the same.  But there are several effects of these behaviors, one being that when you’re doing these things, you’re not moving. So what? Well, without physical activity you begin to destroy your body, and if that doesn’t affect you now, it certainly will later.

Obesity puts you at risk of diabetes, heart attacks, depression and more. Although these conditions are more likely to affect obese people in their adulthood, children also face direct consequences of being obese.  For example, regardless of race and gender, obese children are more likely to be involved in bullying, which can result in anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

More than 23 million children and teens are obese or overweight in America today.  A recent study by Eric Finkelstein a health economist at Duke University, predicts that by 2030, more than 42 percent of the adult population will be obese.  Let’s work to lose that statistic!

Less physical activity, combined with increased portion sizes and a consequent increase in caloric intake, has resulted in spiked childhood obesity.  When you’re still growing and developing, it is normal for your body to gain a few pounds. What is not ‘normal’ is when the body takes in too many calories and produces too much fat, without any sort of compensation.  That’s right, you gotta eat less and exercise more to be healthy! Not only can exercise ward off sickness and keep you at a healthy weight, but it pumps good-mood hormones throughout your body, so you feel better about who you are and what you’re doing.

To combat the issue of portion sizes and increase focus on nutrition, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently introduced a new ‘food guidance system’ to encourage healthy eating.  Say goodbye to the food pyramid…here comes the plate. MyPlate is designed by ‘cutting’ a plate into fifths, each a different size for a particular food group: (1) fruits and (2) veggies (which should take up HALF of your plate!), (3) proteins, (4) dairy (got milk?), and (5) grains. The goal of using a circle rather than the pyramid is to simulate meal building; by relating food to what it’s eaten off of, it’s easier to map out a meal.

Women and girls around the country are joining the movement and working to make changes and get moving. Michelle Obama, a major leading lady, has taken a stand against the rise in obesity in America. In creating the “Let’s Move!” campaign, Michelle is working to solve the problem of childhood obesity so that the experience of growing up can be healthier, and youthful dreams can be pursued. Goals of the program include better access to healthier foods in schools, better access to healthy food for families (including families on food stamps), and helping youth become more physically active.

Here are some suggestions on how to advance a healthier lifestyle for yourself and for others:

  1. Snacks are a great place to incorporate healthy foods into your diet. Try bringing baked chips to school instead of fried. Celery sticks too boring? Pair them with low-fat ranch dressing or peanut butter.
  2. Walk where you can. If you’re able, leave for school a bit earlier than usual and make your way by foot. Your body will thank you for it and so will your brain! (There’s new research evidence that walking to school helps stimulate brain function). Be sure to keep your bones strong through routine exercise, milk drinking, and nut eating.
  3. Join the Youth Advisory Board, and inspire healthy living! The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization committed to ending childhood obesity by 2015 through collaboration with food, fitness, and technology industries, is looking for applicants to join their Advisory Board and take action to stop childhood obesity.  Participants within this youth-led group are required to implement healthy changes within their communities and schools through educating their peers and neighbors.  To see if you’re qualified to apply (between the ages of 8 and 17, live in the U.S., etc.), check out the Healthier Generation website.
  4. If you live in the Boston area, you can get involved in the work that Sociedad Latina is doing to improve the quality of life in Roxbury, including addressing obesity concerns through the “We are What We Eat” Campaign. Girls in the campaign are working to bring salad bars and healthy, cultural foods into their school cafeterias.
  5. Get your parents involved; they can help change things with and for you. The USDA has initiated a Fresh Food and Vegetable Program (FFVP) to replace the junk food in schools with healthy snacks, resulting in positive health effects. There are still several schools that are not participating in this program. Have your parents check out your school and if they are not complying, petition for the FFVP at MomsRising.org so more cafeterias can transform what they’re serving, and who they’re serving it to.

So, get up, get out, and get moving girls! Start by checking out the Women’s Sports Foundation’s GoGirlGo! curriculum, where you can learn how to get and stay active and healthy.

For information on issues related to obesity and healthy eating, see our Food Buzz article in the Spring/Summer issue of our print magazine entitled “The Secret Life of Lunch.” And check out our online interview with the activists at Sociedad Latina, with their campaign to bring healthier lunch choices to Boston teens in school.

Screen-Free Week 2012: Turn off the TV, and Turn On Life!

By Janette Santos, Editorial Intern

How many hours a day would you guess that you stare at a television, computer screen, video game, or cell phone? According to a 2010 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, on average, children aged 8-18 spends about seven and a half hours using entertainment media every day. And because so much of that time is spent using more than one medium at a time, it’s really more like 11 hours worth of media content. Furthermore, the average teenager in 7th -12th grade spends about an hour and a half every day just sending and receiving texts!  On average, Black and Hispanic children consume much more TV than white kids–black children watching almost six hours per day, Latino youth about five and a half hours per day, and white kids three and a half hours a day.

A down side to watching TV and using the computer is that you are not physically active (except maybe a little bit with games like Wii Sports). And especially for teens, this is not good. Approximately 12.5 million of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are considered obese. Physical inactivity is a risk factor for not only obesity, but also Type 2 diabetes. Heavy media users also tend to perform poorly in school, usually getting fair or poor grades (mostly C’s or lower). In addition to that, getting wrapped up in screens can be detrimental to developing a well-rounded social life. TV, social media sites, and video games may be entertaining, but they are no substitute for interactions with real people.

Understandably though, with the irresistible lure of modern luxuries such as DVR-ing your favorite television shows (can you say, Once Upon A Time marathon?), updating your Facebook status, or even spending hours exploring the awesome Teen Voices website (ahem!), it can be hard to motivate yourself to get up off the couch and pursue a more physical or social activity such as taking a walk, riding your bike, or doing Double Dutch.

Luckily for all of us, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is sponsoring Screen-Free Week 2012! Started in 1996, the goal is to give children and families around the country a chance to turn off the screens they use for entertainment, and turn on life! For one whole week, you can use your creativity to think up great new ways to spend your free time, whether it be finally cracking open that book you’ve been meaning to read; taking a walk around your city; playing a game of soccer with your friends; swimming at the beach; going for a hike in the woods with your family; or even enjoying a jog through your neighborhood. The possibilities are endless. The fact that it’s spring will hopefully make it more appealing to go outside.

Another piece of good news is that YOU can help spread the word about Screen-Free Week and inspire others to start themselves on the path to a healthier, more active lifestyle by downloading an Organizer’s Kit at the Screen Free Week website.

So, get up off that couch, and get moving! And start talking! To find out more information about Screen Free Week, visit their website.

10 Ways for Youth to Address Teen Depression

With winter coming in quickly and holidays approaching, many of us start to feel a rush of holiday spirit and excitement: we may have family parties, school vacations, and a new year at the tip of our fingers. But not everyone shares in the season’s joy—December can also be a challenging time of loneliness, sadness, and despair for some of us.  And for teens, depression can be especially overwhelming.

Could someone you know, a family member, friend, or peer, be suffering from depression? Look for these symptoms and warning signs:

  • Sadness
  • Irritability/anger
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in sleeping/eating habits
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Lack of motivation
  • Thoughts of death/suicide

If you notice these signs, start by offering your support and look for ways you can help.  These tips may be useful.

Many celebrities and organizations have already stepped in to raise awareness and to find ways to support teens suffering from depression. From posting inspirational videos to taking pledges, big names like Ke$ha, Liv Tyler, and Demi Lovato have found ways to get involved. And you can too! Whether you know someone suffering from teen depression or not, Get Ur Good On has made a list of ten ways you can volunteer support and spread the message!

Check out Get Ur Good On’s list of 10 ways YOU can Get UR Good On for Teen Depression!

  1. Take the “It Gets Better” pledge and support LGBTQ youth. Make an even stronger commitment by recording an encouraging It Gets Better video like the ones from Ke$ha, Chris Colfer, Google Employees, and many more.
  2. Create a video about teen suicide and prevention. Upload to YouTube like Max Bennington and spread the word. Find information about depression and suicide on Half of Us and TeenScreen.
  3. To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) is a nonprofit working to help people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. Miley Cyrus, Liv Tyler,  and Boys Like Girls all support TWLOHA. Want to help too? Plan a penny drive, fashion show, or concert fundraiser and donate. Find more ways to support here.
  4. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. On this day, share Facebook statuses and tweets with organizations peers can contact for counseling or help.
  5. Send positive and encouraging messages to friends. Be a support system for them; a little pick-me-up goes a long way!
  6. Brittany Snow, Demi Lovato, Victoria Justice, and Zendaya all know that Love is Louder than the pressure to be perfect. Take a “Love is Louder” picture and share on Twitter, or upload to GetUrGoodOn.org, Love is Louder’s Facebook page, or make it your profile picture!
  7. Speak out against bullying at school. Visit Teens Against Bullying for anti-bullying activities.
  8. Volunteer with the Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. Help make survival kits, volunteer at an event, or join a board committee.
  9. Write the word “Love” on your forearm for one day and explain to people that you are raising awareness of teen depression and suicide. Share “love” pictures on Get Ur Good On as others have done. Make sure to use a washable marker!
  10. Start a mental health screening program at school. Find resources to develop the program on TeenScreen and get friends involved with the planning.

Source: http://tools.ysa.org/geturgoodon/10WaysTeen_SuicidePrevention_Depression.pdf

http://helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen.htm#sign_and_symptoms.  Reprinted with permission.

The Vagina Monologues, Teen Voices style!

Vagina. That’s right — we said it. VAGINA. We live in a society where men are free to talk about their reproductive parts as much as they want. They can scratch and adjust in public and no one looks twice. But if we even mention our periods or anything south of our borders –- at least in a nonsexual way — guys sometimes act like we’re carrying the black plague.

Well, this week was Health Week at Teen Voices. The teen girls in our mentoring program watched Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking one-woman show The Vagina Monologues. Thanks to Ensler, vaginas everywhere are finally sharing their stories. They have their own “voices” and the freedom to talk about sex, love, periods, masturbation, and so much more.

So, inspired by Ensler, the girls wrote monologues for their vaginas. They even gave them fun names, like “Cherish” and “Kitty,” and then they took the stage.

What we found out in the monologues is that some of these vaginas are lonely! One of them, “Phoebe,” pointed out in her monologue, “No one talks to me … because I’m a vagina.”

The vaginas pointed out that they love the clothes we dress them up in: jewelry, satin, lace, thongs, and boy shorts. They also noted that they enjoy feeling a fresh breeze and some nice ocean water every now and then.

These opinionated vaginas want in on the decision to shave or not to shave. Some of these va-jay-jays finally gave their owners a piece of their minds, pointing out that a Brazilian wax is basically torture.

A lot of these vaginas talked about losing their virginity. Like Phoebe, many would like to have a visitor, but their owners are adamant that they wait for the right person to come along. “Lalani” doesn’t get why she shouldn’t be able to help with this decision. “Yeah,” this outspoken vagina said. “She’s my owner, but I should have an opinion too!”


The girls also talked about the importance of taking the right precautions against “gangs” like AIDS and other STDs. “These are not gangs you want anything to do with,” one vagina said. “Not at all.”

Throughout the show, the ladies at Teen Voices took pride in their bodies and the way they care for them and respect them. They were positive, caring, honest and blunt — and they get that their vaginas and sexuality are a part of them and help make them who they are.

So what about your vagina? Shouldn’t she get a chance to express herself too? If she had her own monologue, what would she say?