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JA-STYLE to Promote Healthy Lifestyle Choices among the Youth in Jamaica

KINGSTON – Jamaica’s Solution to Youth Lifestyle and Empowerment (JA-STYLE), a project aimed at promoting healthy lifestyle choices among the island’s youth, was launched Wednesday, February 8.

A program of the Ministry of Health in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project will target young people aged 10 to 19 years and organizations that interact most with the age cohort, and also seek to identify and provide support solutions to many of the most serious issues confronting youth throughout Jamaica, including reproductive health, violence prevention, and HIV/AIDS.

Health Minister, John Junor, who addressed the launching ceremony held at the Ministry’s King Street office downtown Kingston, cited statistics that reflected a substantial increase in sexual intercourse, violence and crime, and drug and alcohol among young Jamaicans.

Data from the National HIV/STI Control Program showed that the number of reported HIV infections in adolescents aged 10 to 24 years has doubled since 1995, and adolescent girls were three times more at risk of contracting HIV than boys. Within the age cohort 15 to 49 years, adolescents accounted for the highest rate of sexually transmitted infections (STI), and at least one out of four sexually active adolescents in Jamaica has contracted an STI.

In terms of crime, Minister Junor said young people were the main perpetrators and the chief victims of crime. “Crime statistics for 1999 recorded that adolescents represented 19.2 per cent of persons arrested for murder; 24 per cent of those arrested for shooting; 27 per cent of those arrested for rape, and 24 per cent for robbery arrests,” he informed.

The national crime statistics further revealed that children and young people comprised 40 per cent of murder victims while some 30 per cent of adolescents reported concern about fighting or violence issues at home and 50 per cent were worried about violence in their communities.

The Health Minister pointed out that in relation to substance abuse, marijuana use had increased from 20 per cent in 1989 to 27 per cent among children in grades nine to 13. He noted that alcohol was the most widely used and abused drug, with adolescent drinking sometimes beginning as young as age 11 to 13.

“To change the future of our nation, we must begin with our youth,” Minister Junor noted. “Behavior change is a process; its goal is the gradual transformation of values, norms and attitudes that shape positive behavior. We must therefore redouble our efforts and focus our energies in a national campaign to transform the youth lifestyles that are unhealthy and negative, as the future of our society depends upon that action and approach now,” Minister Junor stated.

He noted that the JA-STYLE project was intended to support the government’s healthy lifestyle policy, and would broaden the scope of previous successes in reproductive health, to include a more holistic approach.

Minister Junor further explained that the project presented “a comprehensive strategy to assist young people, their families and communities, and the public and private sectors, to improve the well-being of young people.”

“Adolescents need more information, and access to services that meet their needs, improved skills, community support and better opportunities to seek healthy lifestyles so that they can lead productive and fulfilling lives,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mission Director for the USAID, Karen Turner, observed that against the background of a bombardment of media messages to young people that “tell them who to be, what to wear, how to act, and where to go”, it was critical to educate and empower adolescents with the knowledge and skills to help them make more informed decisions, lest their educational achievement and the future of the country would be in jeopardy.

She said JA-STYLE would help to improve health services for young people, implement youth-related health policies, create and disseminate information about healthy behaviors and strengthen non-governmental organizations that carry out important work for young people.

“The overarching purpose of JA-STYLE is to create a more positive environment in which young people can thrive and better realize their fullest potential,” the USAID Director explained.

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