Engaging Canadian youth in conversations: Using knowledge exchange in school-based health promotion

Donna Murnaghan, Courtney Laurence, Brandi Bell, Melissa Munro-Bernard


The voice of youth is crucial to advancing solutions that contribute to effective strategies to improve youth health outcomes. The problem, however, is that youth/student voices are often overlooked, and stakeholders typically engage in decision-making without involving youth. The burden of chronic disease is increasing worldwide, and in Canada chronic disease accounts for 89 per cent of deaths. However, currently, youth spend less time being physically active while engaging in more unhealthy eating behaviours than ever before. High rates of unhealthy behaviours such as physical inactivity, unhealthy eating and tobacco use are putting Canadian youth at risk of health problems such as increased levels of overweight and obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Focus group methodology was utilised to conduct 7 focus groups with 50 students in grades 7–12 from schools in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The key themes that emerged included: (1) youth health issues such as lack of opportunities to be physically active, cost and quality of healthy food options, and bullying; (2) facilitators and barriers to health promotion, including positive peer and adult role models, positive relationships with adults and competitiveness of school sports; and (3) lack of student voice. Our findings suggest that actively engaging youth provides opportunities to understand youth perspectives on how to encourage them to make healthy choices and engage in healthy behaviours. Attention needs to be paid to inclusive knowledge exchange practices that value and integrate youth perspectives and ideas as a basis for building health promotion actions and interventions.

Keywords: knowledge exchange, youth health, youth engagement

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