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!

Views: 677

Tags: NCDs, Opinion, Students

Comment by Nicholas Crooks on November 6, 2013 at 4:57

I whole heartedly agree with the premiss of your comment and indeed believe that one of the great battles of our age will be getting our younger generations to engage with and to give a s*** about....well about anything! If you are indeed passionate, truly passionate, about something it's almost impossible to not be wholeheartedly engaged in it, you will want to comment, you will want to rant and rave.

This appears to be a problem for but not exclusively limited to Generation-Y, or should that rather be Generation-Why? as in Why Care? Why Act? In her book entitled 'Generation Me' Jean Twenge notes the predominant attributes of Generation-Y are a sense of entitlement and narcissism which is ratified, I believe, in a University of Michigan survey that found that only 45% of Gen-Y students found it important to develop a meaningful philosophy of life yet 75% thought being wealthy was of high importance.

Educated or not Gen-Yers want what they want now and feel that the world owes them that right, work and particularly employment is merely a burden which one must endure so as to heighten ones own self interests or enjoy the frivolities afforded through the accumulation of wealth. But alas are we not just trying to fit Generation-Yers in to the mold cast be previous generations? Yes, they are afforded opportunities that others before them were not and they perhaps begrudgingly oblige foreknowing it necessary in order to make it in the increasingly cut-throat work environment but is this what they really want? Apathy is the lurking shadow in this story, you can coerce young people to getting an education, you can coerce them to getting a job but you can't coerce them in to REALLY caring about either...it's in them or it's not!

But are Generation-Yers really the ones to blame or is it their time-poor parents who've so neglected spending quality time with them over working longer and longer hours who to attempt to fill this void and placate their every desire in the fleeting moments of togetherness. Thus conditioning a generation that has never had to suffer to get what they want, now I'm not talking about really suffering here merely suffering a little bit of patience or suffering doing something good for no reward but for the knowing that others have gained or at least not gone wanting.

Thus I feel that engaging them on the right platform or via the right means is an important step but we first somehow have to get them to truly see that they are an integral part of the societal whole and not just an innocent bystander, we need to get them to realise that there won't be a wonder drug to fix everything, we need to lift the veil of apathy and get them marching in the streets about what effects them most and the statistics overwhelming show what will effect them most is NCDs.

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