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School involvement may lower kids' health risks

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Sep 14 (Reuters) Getting teenagers more active in school life may lower the odds that they will smoke, drink, use drugs or have sex, a new study suggests.

Australian researchers found that students at schools that started programs of ''social inclusion'' were 25 per cent less likely than their peers at other schools to report that they got into fights, abused drugs or alcohol, or were sexually active.

The programs were designed to help teenagers feel more connected to their schools by encouraging them to get involved in and out of the classroom. Students also received lessons on managing their emotions and communicating with other people.

''The study provides support for prevention strategies in schools that move beyond health education to promoting positive social environments,'' Dr George C Patton of the Center for Adolescent Health in Melbourne and colleagues report in the American Journal of Public Health.

Patton's group followed 13- and 14-year-old students at 25 schools over 4 years. About half of the schools received help in implementing a social inclusion program for 8th grade students, while the rest served as a comparison group.

After 4 years, the researchers found that 20 per cent of 8th-graders at the comparison schools reported taking ''marked'' health risks, such as heavy substance abuse, fighting and having sex, compared with 15 per cent of students at the schools that started a social program.

The findings, according to Patton's team, suggest that encouraging kids to become more engaged in school could have wide-ranging effects on their behavior, and ultimately their health.

Effects like those seen in this study, they write, ''could have major public health benefits if the approach were adopted broadly.'' REUTERS DKA HT1030

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