Teen health program reaches decade milestone

02 Dec 2014

An innovative Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) program promoting healthy living celebrates its 10 year anniversary at Rooty Hill High School this week.

The award-winning initiative, Students as Lifestyle Activists (SALSA), encourages healthy lifestyle choices by recruiting students to coach their peers about nutrition and physical activity.

SALSA originated as an idea by Mount Druitt general practitioners (GPs) to improve the health of adolescents. Ten years later, it has evolved into a highly successful healthy lifestyle intervention program for adolescents in western Sydney and internationally.

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Dr Smita Shah, director, Primary Health Care Education and Research Unit, WSLHD and Westmead Hospital, said SALSA had encouraged more than 7000 students to exercise more, decrease their intake of junk food and minimise time spent on electronic devices.

“The program is now part of the curriculum at 13 high schools across the region,” she said.

“It has been so successful that four schools in Jordan have implemented it, with trials underway in Beijing.”

Dr Kean-Seng Lim, president of the Mount Druitt Medical Practitioners Association, said the cost-effective peer education program was widely considered to be one of the few intervention programs in health to impact positively on students’ wellbeing.

Ben Berriman, head Personal Development Health and physical education teacher at Nepean High School, said SALSA had opened channels of communication between younger and older students, as well as between students and teachers.

SALSA is accepting expressions of interest from high schools  to run the program in 2015.

“I encourage high schools across western Sydney to join the SALSA program so more students can adopt a healthy lifestyle now and into the future,” said Dr Shah. 

For more information, contact Dr Smita Shah via email at Smita.Shah@health.nsw.edu.au or 0423000170.  For more information visit http://sydney.edu.au/medicine/public-health/salsa-triple-a/; www.facebook.com/StudentsAsLifestyleActivists or @studentsaslifestyleactivists on Instagram.