Nurse's Talk Spurs Teens to Improve Health Slightly
Fri Sep 6,12:11 PM ET
By Steven Reinberg

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teenagers who participate in a health promotion program given by primary care providers exhibit a small but encouraging change in health behavior, according to a study conducted in the UK.

This is the first study to evaluate the effects of one-on-one consultations for adolescents on health and health behavior in the general practice setting, Dr. Joy Townsend from the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, told Reuters Health.

Townsend and colleagues randomly assigned 1,488 teenagers 14 to 16 years of age to usual care or to a 20-minute health consultation with a practice nurse.

Members of both groups completed questionnaires at 3 and 12 months and provided saliva samples at the beginning of the study and a year later to confirm self-reported smoking status.

Of the 970 teenagers who completed questionnaires at the beginning of the study, 23% were current smokers, 35% had been drunk within the previous 3 months, 64% believed that they did not eat healthily, 39% did not exercise regularly, and 13% of the girls and 8% of the boys had possible depression, according to the report in the September 7th issue of the British Medical Journal.

At 3 months, more of the subjects in the group who talked with a nurse reported progress in changing their diet, exercise routine, smoking or drinking behavior compared with subjects in the usual care group (41% versus 31%), Townsend's team reports. However, these changes did not continue at the 12-month follow-up.

The numbers of those whose actual behavior had changed at 3 months were quite small (16% versus 12%), the researchers add.

"The consultations were very highly valued by the adolescents and were quite cheap. Most said that they felt free to talk about everything that they wanted to, and 97% said that they would recommend the service to a friend," Townsend said.

"Adolescents generally get rather short shrift from general practice, as on average they are given shorter consultations than others and often feel that are not able to discuss sensitive issues that they are worried about," she added.

"We recommend that family practices consider using such consultations to enable mental and physical concerns of teenagers to be identified and addressed. This would clearly be welcome to adolescents," Townsend told Reuters Health.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal 2002;325:524-527.

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