Navigating the internet and adopting healthy habits

October 2019 … Students participating in the Healthy NewsWorks program gained a better understanding of the challenges posed by the internet and were motivated to adopt some healthy habits, all while honing interviewing and research skills, according to a recent analysis of survey results.

Caroline La Rochelle

The analysis, conducted by Caroline La Rochelle, a graduate student in the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Public Health Program, compared two student surveys completed by 81 students during the 2017-18 school year: One before the students began work on Healthy NewsWorks newspapers and one near the end of the school year.

Before the Healthy NewsWorks program began in their schools, only 28% of the students surveyed could explain how to determine whether a website is trustworthy. Toward the end of the program, 97% had a better understanding of how to evaluate the trustworthiness of websites.

“What really jumped out was the new level of media literacy,” Ms. La Rochelle said in a recent interview. “It blew my mind. These kids could teach many adults how to critically read material on the internet.”

During the 2017-18 school year, the Healthy NewsWorks curriculum emphasized cardiac health. According to the end-of-year survey, students came to grasp some of the ins and outs of taking care of the heart.

Asked about other lessons they had learned through the program, the children described several ways they applied health-related information to their own lives, Ms. La Rochelle said.

“Kids mentioned eating better,” she said. “One student described being taught to manage stress, gave a detailed description of practicing yoga and breathing techniques and told how he was now better at dealing with the fear of math.”

Hearing the children credit their Healthy NewsWorks participation for helping them make such changes was “powerful,” Ms. La Rochelle said. She noted that research has shown it is generally very difficult to get people to change their health habits.

Healthy NewsWorks’ emphasis on linking journalism skills and health education also paid off, according to the survey.

The new skill the students liked the most? Interviewing, according to the survey.

“Many students described at length how the interviews were not only enjoyable, but also meaningful and a significant learning experience,” according to a summary of the survey.

Healthy NewsWorks has maintained an active evaluation program since 2007 to help shape and inform its programming. To see earlier evaluation results, visit Program Outcomes.

—By John Fried


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