GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida program aimed at helping young people avoid alcohol and illegal drugs works well, new research shows.
Health Rocks!, an Extension curriculum facilitated by the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Florida 4-H Youth Development Program, teaches middle school students life skills.
UF/IFAS Extension agents, faculty and the National 4-H Council teach Health Rocks! Many times, the professionals train schoolteachers and volunteers, who teach middle school students the curriculum.
The study’s results show the Florida curriculum helps to increase young people’s knowledge and to change their attitudes about drug use and may help them avoid illegal substances, said Kate Fogarty, an associate professor in UF/IFAS’ family, youth and community sciences and a study co-author.
Among other goals, the program tries to prevent or reduce youth smoking and tobacco use, help them understand the influences and health consequences of tobacco, drug and alcohol use and get young people to choose and promote healthy lifestyle choices.
“It’s amazing, the impact on the kids because of the rigor of the curriculum,” said Muthusami Kumaran, an assistant professor in family, youth and community sciences, who helped conduct the study.
For the study, Extension agents recruited more than 2,000 students in seven Florida counties to participate in Health Rocks! sessions and activities. Students in Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Marion, Miami-Dade and Santa Rosa counties took the classes as part of after-school programs, in the classroom and at community clubs and camps. They ranged from 10 to 15 years old.
Participants had to take at least 10 hours of Health Rocks! to take the survey.
To gauge how much students said they learned about substance abuse, 954 students responded to statements in three categories: “drug knowledge,” “drug beliefs/attitudes” and “decision making/behavioral skills to handle and resist drugs.”
Statements included: “Once you start using drugs, it is hard to stop,” “I need to think about how my choices will affect my future” and “I am able to say ‘no’ if others offered me drugs.”
Students answered based on scales of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning they strongly disagreed with the statement and 5 meaning they strongly agreed.
Their average scores went up from 2.99 to 3.43 in “drug knowledge,” 3.45 to 3.63 in “drug beliefs/attitudes” and 3.0 to 3.43 in “skills to handle/resist drugs.” Those numbers show statistically significant improvement for hundreds of children in the program from 2009-2012, Fogarty said.
By comparison, children in Georgia showed an increase from 3.06 to 3.69 in “knowledge of substance,” 3.00 to 3.76 in “beliefs regarding substance” and 3.06 to 3.67 in “resistance skills” for the same period, according to National 4-H figures. As another example, Virginia students’ scores went up from 3.06 to 3.65, 3.00 to 3.72 and 3.06 to 3.63 in the same categories.
“These Florida results show youth perceive a change in their knowledge of drugs, and they intend to carry out that knowledge, and it has helped change their attitudes toward drugs and other illegal substances,” Fogarty said.
Those attitude and knowledge adjustments are critical, researchers said. They cite such assessments as the Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, given every other year to middle and high school students statewide. In 2008, for example, the survey showed 36 percent of middle school students had consumed alcohol in their lifetimes.
In 2009, UF and seven other southern land-grant universities ─ Clemson, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Auburn ─ received grants from the National 4-H Council to support their Heath Rocks! programs. The UF/IFAS grant totaled $160,000 for four years.
The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Youth Development.
Writer: Brad Buck
Sources: Kate Fogarty, 352-273-3527, firstname.lastname@example.org
Muthusami Kumaran, 352-273-3524, email@example.com
Cutline: UF/IFAS researchers Kate Fogarty, left, and Muthusami Kumaran, led a study of the Florida 4-H Health Rocks! program and found it helped middle school students increase their knowledge of illegal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco and helped them develop attitudes toward avoiding such substances. 4-H programs across the South received grants in 2009 for their Health Rocks! initiatives.
Credit: UF/IFAS file photos.