Getting Youth Involved in Health Policy

This blog originally appeared on The Hippocratic Post.

At One Young World this year, we are hosting a session on the role young people can play in helping to set the health policy agenda. As a young person, I think this session is so very important. Growing up, I often felt like I could not change the policies that affected my health. I found myself fighting against systems that were not made for me. This made being healthy really hard in my community. I found members of my community, including my own family, fighting a host of health issues – things like diabetes, cancer, obesity – but not having access to good health information and policies to help them deal with those things. As a young person who has always struggled with her health, I found myself searching for programmes and roles models to help me get healthy – but only ever found programmes meant to stop me from getting unhealthy in the first place.

My struggle with accessing good health information and health policy really affected me when I was in university and needed my health record transferred to the school. This turned out to be such a big process that I had to start completely from scratch – which meant testing for vaccinations, confirming existing diagnoses, and a host of other tests that a busy university student did not have time for.

From these experiences, I knew I had to get involved to change health policies and access to youth-friendly, youth-accessible health information to meet the needs of young people. However, like many young people, I wasn’t sure where to start. How do you start working with government to affect policy change? What’s the first step? This changed for me when I got involved with organisations like the Young Canadians Round Table on Health, the Sandbox Project, and AstraZenca’s Young Health Program. They helped me understand how to engage with local, provincial and federal government to begin a dialogue around how we can make health policy and health services better meet the needs of young people.

And it’s so important that young peoples’ voices be heard in this conversation. Rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and asthma are increasing dramatically across the world. The behaviours that contribute to NCDs usually begin in childhood or adolescence. Despite this reality, young people themselves are often marginalised in government policy discussions about how to reduce the incidence of NCDs and promote better population health.

It makes good sense to start this conversation at One Young World, where our future leaders will congregate to address the big issues of our world. We will have a panel discussion that includes young people, members of government and public figures interested in health (including an Olympian). We will explore how youth can actively participate in setting the health policy agenda and lead advocacy for necessary change. Then the group will be spilt up by which health issues they want to discuss so that they can plan for action. They can plan things to do when they get home to help change health policy. We will then present our ideas back to the group and commit to making change in that area.

I am so excited to see the outcome of these discussions and to empower young people to make meaningful health policy improvements in their country to ensure a healthier future for all.

Alicia Raimundo is a mental health advocate who is working to reduce the stigma and open up the conversation on mental health. She is the Co-Chair of the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health. She has spoken to over 10,000 youth about the topic and has more than 600 public talks under her belt, including 2 TEDx talks and a Keynote at World Youth Day 2014.