“The Youth Empowerment Program provides resources to those who need them most, minority youth who live in some of the most high-risk areas in the country. At its heart, this program is helping them make better lifestyle choices that result in healthier, happier lives.”
The Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) supports demonstration projects that test innovative approaches in promoting healthy lifestyles in minority youth. Funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH), 17 universities, colleges, and community colleges across the country host youth empowerment programs that began in fiscal year 2009, starting a three-year funding cycle (Figure 1-1). These YEP grantees seek to eliminate health disparities by addressing social determinants of health, such as insufficient education, exposure to violence, inadequate access to healthcare, lack of role models, and other psycho-social and economic factors. These issues undermine healthy behaviors during adolescence and lead to significant health disparities that disproportionately affect minority youth.
The YEP supports Healthy People 2020’s 10-year agenda for improving the nation’s health by addressing these disparities and promoting quality of life and well-being. Eighty-four of the nearly 600 objectives for Healthy People 2020 focus on adolescents. Eleven of those 84 address health and safety issues in people 10 to 24 years of age.
Not surprisingly, these objectives address mortality, injury, violence, reproductive health, and chronic diseases — all problems that can be addressed with prevention programs that target unhealthy behaviors in youth. Additionally, the YEP contributes significantly to OMH’s National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities Initiative, specifically concentrating on one of its goals: to improve health outcomes for racial, ethnic, and underserved populations.
The primary objective of the YEP is to eliminate unhealthy behaviors common in at-risk minority youth, ages 10-18. Specifically, the YEP promotes novel and creative ideas designed to reduce high-risk behaviors, strengthen youth resiliency, improve protective factors, develop fundamental life skills, and establish a pattern of behaviors that lead to healthy choices and ultimately success in life.
Each of OMH’s Youth Empowerment Program grants is conducted by an academic institution of higher learning, in conjunction with a school or school system and other community organizations. All grantees must provide tutoring, mentoring, role models, and summer programs. Accordingly, improving educational outcomes and enhancing academic performance is a major focus of the YEP, with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes.
In childhood and throughout adolescence, young people formulate early patterns of behavior and decision making that foster either positive or negative effects on health in both the short- and long-term. Because social determinants of health affect disadvantaged populations to a greater extent, these choices have more deleterious consequences on minority youth, as demonstrated by risky behaviors that lead to greater incidences of morbidity and mortality. Risky behaviors can lead to unintentional injuries. Additional negative behaviors include violence; and use of tobacco, alcohol and other illicit drugs. Risky sexual behaviors increase the risk of HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Furthermore, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity lead to obesity and increase the risk for chronic disorders like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. All of these risky behaviors are clearly preventable, providing the rationale for OMH’s Youth Empowerment Program.