Program Can Provide Long-Term Physical and Mental Health Improvement Among Adolescents

Summary: Being overweight or obese or having depressive symptoms can interfere with health and academic performance among young people, yet the number of overweight and obese young people has increased in recent years. To help find the best way to address weight and depression among teens, scientists tested the long-term effectiveness of the COPE (Creating Opportunities for Personal Empowerment) Healthy Lifestyles TEEN (Thinking, Emotions, Exercise, Nutrition) program. The COPE Healthy Lifestyles TEEN program, which involves teacher-led physical activity and positive behavioral skills training, was compared with an attention control program, Healthy Teens. The interventions were presented as part of required health classes in 11 high schools. In all, 779 students aged 14–16 participated in the study.

Researchers measured the two programs’ effects on overweight and obesity, as well as depressive symptoms, at 12 months following the interventions. After these 12 months, students participating in the COPE Healthy Lifestyles TEEN program had lower body mass index than those participating in the Healthy Teens program. None of those in the COPE Healthy Lifestyles TEEN intervention became obese, and only about 5 percent moved from a healthy weight to overweight, whereas 10 percent of those in the Healthy Teens control group moved into overweight or obesity. Among the subgroup of participants with severely elevated depressive symptoms, participants in the COPE Healthy Lifestyles TEEN group improved after 12 months, while depressive symptoms in the Healthy Teens group remained elevated. The researchers concluded that the COPE Healthy Lifestyles TEEN program may help at-risk youth improve their physical and mental health. They also note that the program was delivered by teachers as part of their curriculum, making it easily available to students who may need it the most.

Citation: Melnyk BM, Jacobson D, Kelly SA, et al. Twelve-Month Effects of the COPE Healthy Lifestyles TEEN Program on Overweight and Depressive Symptoms in High School Adolescents. J Sch Health. 2015 Dec; 85(12):861-70. PMID: 26522175