What is Southern West Virginia Lifestyles All About?
West Virginia suffers from some of the highest rates of lifestyle-associated diseases, as well as the greatest health disparities, of any state in the United States. The unhealthiest six counties in the State are all counties within the southern part of the State. There are approximately 200,000 people in these six counties and approximately 30,000 are children between the ages of 5 and 18. Under the title of Southern West Virginia Lifestyles (SWVL) Project, a campaign was developed using a popular form of social media for high school students, Twitter, to introduce a competition-style intervention among high schools in the region.
This project offers a simple program that can be adopted by school districts virtually anywhere with little cost and potentially large benefits. The project has an added advantage for spreading interest in health promotion in that high schools are the community’s epicenters and the most logical place to spread general health awareness in the counties.
Based on initial primary research, a standing athletic rivalry among seven local high schools appeared to offer a chance for motivation of participants in the project. Utilizing this established competition among the schools motivated the students to participate and become more involved in a campaign of practicing healthier behaviors.
In order to participate, students had to follow a health information program developed using Twitter to complete a series of tweeted tasks. These tasks ranged from trying a new exercise to ordering a meal from a prepared Fast Food Guide. Students usually proved completion of the task by tweeting a picture. Each task that was completed awarded the students individual points for a chance to win an individual prize as well as points toward their school winning the overall prize. The school that accumulated the most points was awarded a full-day Health Fair for the school, involving healthy games and activities.
What Is Being Done?
For SWVL participating schools all challenges are optional. Teams may participate in as many activities as circumstances and the school year permits. They may accept “Standing Challenges” listed under Challenges and/or may submit their own “Requested Challenge” for evaluation and scoring by the Judging Panel. Requested Challenges need only address a healthy lifestyle issue, encouraging participants to practice and adopt some aspect of that healthy lifestyle issue. Examples of areas for healthy lifestyle improvement are: Nutrition, exercise, environment, drug abuse reduction, smoking and tobacco use cessation and reductions in sexually transmitted disease.
Points are awarded and added up for all the challenges in which a School participates. Near the end of the school year, the school with the highest point count will receive an award from SWVL. Other awards may be given as well. For any given Requested Challenge, points are awarded for participation and impact.