Friday, January 25, 2013

Between Peers

How many times have you heard the phrase, “The dumbest question is the one that’s never asked”? Let’s face it… we all want to ask certain questions about our health and wellness, but still have a tendency to feel like those topics are off limits and should be kept quiet. It has been drilled into our minds that we are supposed to just ‘know’ these things and/or just figure them out for ourselves; but seriously… you can’t know if you don’t ask! Here at EIU, one of the many health related organizations include the H.E.A.L.T.H. Peer Education Program, also known as H.E.A.L.T.H.: Peer to Peer.
So what does H.E.A.L.T.H. stand for exactly? It stands for Helping, Educating, Advocating, and Learning Through Health. EIU’s Peer Education program helps to provide an opportunity for students to promote positive lifestyle choices among their fellow students, while also providing students with some helpful professional skills! 
So you may be wondering… What exactly does a Peer Educator do? Well, in a nut shell, a Peer Educator helps create and run relaxed, yet informative programs on a wide variety of health related topics. These topics can and do range from healthy sexuality to things such as alcohol and other substance abuse prevention. These programs are presented to different organizations both on and off campus and throughout the community. These include, but are not limited to: resident halls, sororities and fraternities, academic classes, as well as other interested student organizations!
So I bet you’re asking yourself: Why are Peer Educators and this program so important? Well that answer is obvious… right? We all know just how awkward it can be to ask questions in general, let alone about topics such as sex, health, and substance abuse such as alcohol and bystander intervention. Students who both lead these programs, as well as attend them can benefit immensely!
One study that was done at the University of California, Santa Barbara reported in 2009 that they believed that “Peer Health Educators play an important role in promoting healthy behaviors in the areas of alcohol and drug use and in eating and nutrition.” Some of the positive results of the study included the fact that students reported after having contact with a Peer Educator, they were more likely to report less alcohol consumption and less related negative consequences after their first year in college, while those who had no contact with a Peer Educator didn’t show these same changes. They also reported that while students who had contact with Peer Health Educators initially engaged in more unhealthy weight management behaviors then did their no-contact counterparts during their first year, they were also more likely to decrease in these types of behaviors, while those that had no contact with Peer Health Educators showed no changes at all (White, 503).With these types of positive changes being seen throughout the country, it is easy to see why these types of programs are needed, and how they benefit the student’s involved.
Those that lead the programs here at EIU begin by becoming educated in the topics covered as well as become certified in peer education. These leaders then gain confidence in themselves and their skills in areas such as leadership, presentations, motivational speaking and in running different team building scenarios. As a Peer Educator, you will become a valued source of information and a role model to your fellow students.
As a participant of the program, students gain valuable information that can help them make overall healthier lifestyle choices. Students can ask their questions in a safe, nonjudgmental environment, which is always a plus for those of us who tend to shy away from these kinds of subjects! There is no worrying about being judged, because these environments are run and attended by your peers! And it is safe to say that if you have a question, even one you think is really “silly” or “awkward,” then someone else is bound to have the same and/or similar one.
Getting involved is important, especially when it comes to Peer Education and support. For more information about the H.E.A.L.T.H. Peer Education Program and to become a H.E.A.L.T.H. Peer Educator, contact the Community Organizing and Leadership coordinator at (217) 581-7786 or e-mail


Journal of American College Health: Mar/Apr2009, Vol. 57 Issue 5, p497-506
“Longitudinal Evaluation of Peer Health Education on a College Campus: Impact on Health Behaviors.” By Sabina White, Young S. Park, Tania Israel, and Elizabeth D. Cordero

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