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Ohio State partners in new effort to expand teen health programs in Columbus

Nationwide Children’s Hospital leads effort funded by $2.5 million federal grant

The Ohio State University is a partner in a $2.5 million federal grant to support and expand adolescent health care services within Columbus City Schools, with a special emphasis on prevention of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The Office of Population Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded the grant to Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Partners include the Columbus schools, Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, and the city of Columbus’ CelebrateOne — a community collaborative aimed at reducing the infant mortality rate. Nationwide Children’s leads the initiative, with Ohio State directing the evaluation and research efforts. The goal is to produce and measure change in adolescents’ health equity and access across Franklin County.

Eric AndermanDuring the three-year project, 7,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students in Franklin County are expected to take part. The project, building on existing collaborations between the organizations, will involve 11 existing school-based health clinics in Columbus schools and provide research-based, reproductive health education. Supportive programs will surround these school-based health services to enhance their impact.

“The fact that our project centers on middle school students is an innovative model for the nation,” said Eric Anderman, professor of educational psychology at Ohio State and the project’s research lead in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

“So many programs wait until high school to address this topic, when many young people are already sexually active. Our idea is to give seventh- and eighth-graders the information and the positive health promotion skills before they start making these decisions. It’s an opportunity to make a huge difference.”

The grant will expand Nationwide Children’s work with Columbus schools to offer:

  • Get Real, an evidence-based, comprehensive reproductive health and teen pregnancy prevention curriculum, which emphasizes social and emotional skills as a key component of healthy relationships and responsible decision making, in 12 Columbus City middle schools
  • A peer ambassador program for students
  • Parent information programs and student summer experiences
  • Expanded mobile health services to the districts’ middle schools
  • An additional school-based health clinic, bringing the total to 12 clinics in the district

“This grant allows us to reach more adolescents in our schools through prevention education and health care services designed to reduce health disparities in our community,” said Dr. Mary Kay Irwin, director of school health services with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and principal investigator of the grant. “Having the expertise of The Ohio State University, especially Professor Anderman, in leading the evaluation of the work ensures efficacy of our interventions and paves the way for future opportunities to expand this level of care for central Ohio adolescents.”

Anderman has extensive experience evaluating the effectiveness of health education projects that teach adolescents about sexual activity and preventing pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections. For this project, he has built on his prior federally funded research experience to create an evaluation that tests the effectiveness of different combinations of state-of-the art instruction and high-quality clinical health services.

All data collected will help measure progress while protecting participants’ privacy.

Get Real is one of the curricula on the list of evidence-based programs approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It includes role-playing activities for students to practice effective refusal skills. Anderman’s past research shows such activities are more effective than presenting factual information followed by giving students a test.

Get Real also emphasizes how to develop healthy relationship skills and family dialogue through classroom and take-home activities. Parents can attend information sessions and have access to additional resources online.

“We believe kids who have been exposed to the Get Real curriculum will be more willing to say they intend to wait to initiate sex,” Anderman said. “We’ll look at not just if the services and education work, but whether there is benefit of different components working together, or a benefit to one group of students versus another.”

For instance, do the results become even better if Get Real is paired with the peer program or the student summer experience, or if their parents were in the parent program? Did the program work better for girls than boys or vice versa?

The research design phases in the various components at different times in each school, but by the end of the three years, all the seventh- and eighth-graders will have received all components of the program.

“This funding will enable us to provide state-of-the-art instruction and enhanced health-promotion services for early adolescents,” Anderman said. “Working with our many community partners, we will create an infrastructure that will enhance adolescent health well beyond the life of the new grant.”

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