Dear Young Professionals,
I write to you with grassy-gravel digging into my backside and a 'People-Mover' tyre caressing my back. Our young team from the WHO are asking directions to our bug-filled cabins in rural Wangaratta, Victoria (Australia).
We have been on the road for weeks – interviewing 1000+ kids for their eating and activity habits as part of an ambitious Victorian investigation into childhood obesity. One thing that had me excited about this field-trip was an opportunity to be stuck in a 8-seater with a rolling collection of bright-eyed young research assistants, that will very shortly form the next generation of public health professionals working on NCD prevention.
Undergraduates. Postgraduates. Each brain stuffed with the latest public health knowledge! And I was determined to tap into their fountain of optimism and listen to the type of innovation that comes with a next generation.
Bewilderingly, the conversation lacked that 'je ne sais quoi'.
400+ students and recent graduates applied for the research assistant positions and we hand-selected the best of an impressive crop. Trust me, these kids are clever (I'd read their CVs) and interested in NCD world. Despite this:
THEY'RE JUST NOT USED TO PEOPLE ASKING THEIR OPINION!
I'm a nice fella - occasionally blunt if you recommend the golden arches after a hard day's work. I offered leading question after leading question on all the hot-topics: soda-tax, urban planning, traffic-light labelling, obesogenicity, community-connectedness, even that discussion about BMI reliability...
This was like drawing blood from a stone. It was highly evident that they weren't used to someone asking their opinion on matters gaining traction in the media.
Without disrespecting our need to engage Average Joe, we must (first?) tap into the next cohort of public health professionals and get them talking!
These future leaders in NCD prevention (18-22s, in particular) need to be given a voice - an opportunity to gather in a forum that helps them develop their opinions on the big issues. This is a must, in my mind. We’re outnumbered 50-1 against Big Food, Big Ag, Big Alcohol, etc. We need more (informed) loud-mouth public health professionals out there kicking up some dust in the media and putting their passion on display. I really don’t think that public health training programmes encourage students to do this enough, if at all.
So, two questions:
1) How on earth do we encourage relevant faculties to present a platform for young (young) students to form an opinion on topical matters? How can we do this through NCD Action? Hopefully the 3T Project (a brilliant initiative!) will grow along with this inspirational network!
2) And just for fun, which topics might you suggest to get their youthful juices flowing?
I’ll start with an odd one: How much (%) does our environment explain differences in weight status?
Oh thank goodness, the stampede of kangaroos and koalas has dispersed! Back to work!
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