Diabetes, obesity and their associated lifestyle risk factors are a huge health, economic and social burden in Australia. There is great need for low cost prevention programs which target modifiable risk factors for chronic diseases. Australian adolescents remain a relatively underserved population in this area. 24.6% of the state’s young people live in western Sydney. Radical improvements in health outcomes could be seen if our young people had the skills, knowledge and support to make health lifestyle choices.
The Primary Health Care Education and Research Unit [PERU] located at Westmead Hospital has developed a unique primary prevention peer-educational program for high school students to address this service need. The SALSA Program, developed in partnership with Rooty Hill High School and Mt Druitt General Practitioners Association a decade ago, empowers young people to make better dietary choices and to be more physically active.
University students train Year 10 students to become effective peer leaders, who in turn educate their younger Year 8 peers. Currently running in 28 western Sydney high schools, the SALSA Program has reached over 10,000 secondary school students since inception.
Learn more about the SALSA Program delivery model.
The SALSA Program’s acknowledged success is in engaging students to make their own healthier lifestyle choices. This is achieved through games and activities in a fun and supportive school setting. An important component of the SALSA Program is the School Action Plan brainstormed by Year 10 Peer Leaders to promote a healthier school environment.
“Initiatives that change the attitudes, eating behaviours and exercise habits of secondary students are rare, but SALSA actually works,” Christine Cawsey, OAM, Principal, Rooty Hill High School.
To see the impact of the SALSA Program as seen through the eyes of our students, view the video and to understand the difference the program has made in our schools read the evaluation results.
Our current research is focused on extending the reach of the SALSA Program by further building leadership capacity of Year 10 Peer Leaders and bringing the Program’s key messages to families.
The SALSA Program has been recognised locally and internationally. In 2014, it received three Western Sydney Local Health District Quality Awards in the categories of Building Partnerships, Innovation and Excellence, and the Community Choice Award. In 2015 the SALSA Program was listed in UNICEF’s Analytical Report on Good Practices in Adolescent and Youth Programming.
Integral to the SALSA Program’s success is its collaborative partnership with both the health and education sectors.
For more information about the program, please visit the SALSA website.