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NINR-supported Program Helps Teens with Depression, Weight

January 12, 2016
COPE teens

A new NINR-funded study shows how schools can significantly improve teens’ physical and mental health by implementing cognitive behavioral skills-building into high school health curricula.

The article on the latest results from the COPE (Creating Opportunities for Personal Empowerment) Healthy Lifestyles TEEN (Thinking, Emotions, Exercise, Nutrition) Program was published in the December issue of the Journal of School Health. The lead author is NINR-supported scientist Dr. Bernadette Melnyk. Dr. Melnyk is dean, associate vice president for health promotion, and chief wellness officer of the College of Nursing at The Ohio State University (OSU).

According to an OSU Nursing press release, 12 months after completing COPE TEEN, students had lower body mass indexes than students in the standard health curriculum. Participants with depression before starting COPE TEEN showed symptoms in the normal range after a year in the program.

COPE TEEN is based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), teaching adolescents that how they think is directly related to how they feel and behave. COPE TEEN skills help students turn negative thoughts triggered by stressful life events into positive ones, which then improves mental health and helps build good physical health habits. The curriculum blends CBT skills sessions with nutrition lessons and physical activities like dancing, walking or kick-boxing. The study included 779 high-school students aged 14 to 16 in the Southwestern US.

"The COPE TEEN program is an excellent example of how NINR-supported research can help promote wellness through evidence-based interventions," said NINR Director Dr. Patricia A. Grady. "Dr. Melnyk and her team continue to show strong results in helping teens develop healthy habits that have a long-lasting impact."

This latest article continues a trend of positive results from COPE TEEN. Dr. Melnyk’s 2013 article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked at six-month outcomes of COPE TEEN, which showed increased physical activity; decreased BMI; higher grades; better social and academic skills as reported by teachers; and lower alcohol use.

Melnyk and her team hope to see the implementation of COPE TEEN into health curricula across the country. According to research cited by Dr. Melnyk, 17 percent of American youth are obese, 15 percent are overweight, and 15 million have a mental health problem that interferes with home or school functioning at home or school, but less than 25 percent receive treatment.

Dr. Melnyk authored an article in The Hill on January 6 describing COPE TEEN and its impact on adolescent wellness. To view the full article, please visit

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