ADB and its Youth Partners Drive “Active” Solutions for Non-Communicable Diseases in Asia and the Pacific

on July 14, 2017.


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Non-communicable diseases and their impact on the youth cohort of Asia and the Pacific

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) now account for majority of health-related deaths in Asia and the Pacific[i] and are found to claim more lives from younger age cohorts[ii]. Among lower middle income countries (LMICs) in Asia for instance, people are 22% more likely to die prematurely due to NCDs between the ages of 30 and 70. This trend in NCD-led deaths in the region, particularly among LMICs is expected to grow in the coming years if left unaddressed [iii].

The importance of understanding NCDs and how it affects the youth cohort of the Asia and the Pacific region cannot be dismissed. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 70 percent of NCD caused deaths among adults in Asia can be traced to risk behaviors such as excessive food, alcohol and substance intake as well as dangerously sedentary lifestyles begun during the adolescent years[iv].

With limited physical activity and unhealthy dietary choices as two key factors behind the prevalence of NCDs, these gaps inevitably call for more behavioral change efforts as one of the solutions to the NCD epidemic in the region early in the individual’s life. Susann Roth, ADB’s Senior Social Development Specialist (Social Protection) posits that behavior change must begin during early childhood and should be fostered all throughout the youth’s education and beyond [v].

Unsurprisingly, these health challenges faced by youth and adults alike are reportedly more prevalent among urban centers even in the Asian context. As urban centers evolve to respond to the fast-paced lifestyle of youth and young professionals, the propensity to make unhealthy decisions becomes easier for this age group.

This is evident in the myriad of unhealthy but easily accessible food options, establishments promoting excessive alcohol intake, deteriorating air quality that discourage from outdoor physical activity while exacerbating respiratory disease, as well as a host of factors that drive risk behaviors that are common among urban contexts[vi].

A recent review of current evidence on the link between urbanization and behavioral changes leading to NCDs in Southeast Asia found that people, particularly children and youth, who lived in urban settings have a higher risk of developing heart problems, respiratory diseases and diabetes[vii].

The role of youth engagement in driving informed solutions for addressing NCDs: Information and knowledge gaps

While the role of governments and schools in ensuring that behavior change efforts are implemented effectively among children and adolescents, opportunities to get the youth themselves involved in the efforts is just as critical. Prospects for individuals, young as they are, to lead meaningful behavior change efforts will remain so long as gaps in NCDs exist.

In other words, youth can be both the recipient and the active drivers of these solutions.
As more global organizations such as the WHO[viii] begin to highlight the indispensable value of youth as solution makers and drivers within the NCD space, the greater the responsibility for development institutions to create enabling conditions and opportunities for youth to step up and contribute, for the benefit of their young contemporaries and older peers as well.

Youth-driven solutions may range from providing cutting edge recommendations to supporting information and knowledge gathering to being the behavior change agents themselves by demonstrating the importance of physical activity to reduce NCDs among other youth and adults within their spheres of influence.

A 2016 study conducted by the Population Reference Bureau emphasized that a first step for addressing NCDs among youth in Asian countries is the purposive and regular collection of data on youth’s risk behaviors as well as related factors and trends. The study also points out that despite the various examples of social and behavior change programs across Asian countries, data measuring their effectiveness is sparse and limited. These are data gaps that students and other youth stakeholders can effectively help in filling given the opportunity as well as the appropriate tools and capacity to do so.

Considering these possible engagement points, it is imperative for development organizations to not only identify youth in Asia and the Pacific as the group among the most affected by NCDs and are therefore in need of greater health interventions but as partners in strengthening these efforts.

How the Asian Development Bank engages youth to drive “active” solutions for NCDs: The ISM and BSM Student Career Experience

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Addressing NCDs is one of the key goals of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) current Operational Plan for uplifting the overall health state of the region from 2015 through 2020. The Operational Plan involves building internal capacity and analysis as a means of informing ADB’s targeted investments in health, particularly in NCD prevention.

The Youth for Asia team, managed and led by ADB’s NGO and Civil Society Center (NGOC), prides itself in being a staunch believer in the power of information and awareness building as critical elements of behavior change, is rising to the challenge of helping combat NCDs. A key example of how the NGOC through the Youth for Asia team mobilizes its network and community of young partners is through purposive events and challenges.

Students from the International School Manila (ISM) and the British School Manila (BSM) were hosted by Youth for Asia (YFA) from June 13 to 16, kicking off the second iteration of the Student Career Experience Week. With the guidance of the YFA, twenty for students, 19 from ISM and 5 from BSM went through a week-long intensive and targeted program aimed at supporting ADB’s engagement with youth through its projects, operations and various thematic groups.

YFA was supported by Susann Roth, who provided technical mentorship and guidance to one of the groups focusing on the Youth’s role in building an environment to encourage Physical Activity to combat the epidemic of NCDs. To enhance and supplement knowledge products and internal capacity, the ISM and BSM Students were tasked to conduct in depth desk-top research and analysis on NCDs across ADB’s Developing Member Countries.

The students also made strategic recommendations for integrating youth-led physical activity within ADB’s health projects after a thorough analysis and understanding of the project pipeline and contexts of each project. One of the key outputs of the challenge was the creation of data-driven behavior change campaigns such as actionable communication materials centered on physical activity as a sustainable means to address NCDs.

The overarching goal of this challenge for the ISM and BSM Students as well as similar events and initiatives led by ADB through the NGOC’s Youth for Asia team is to consistently and continuously develop its youth partners in the rigor of proactively and methodically contributing to the overall welfare of the region and its population.

With young minds engaged to bridge knowledge gaps and promote more intentional and innovative behavior change programs to help solve NCDs are some of the many active examples wherein ADB does its part to develop a healthier region for and with today’s generation and the next.

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