Pa. launches first-ever ‘Teen Health Week’ spearheaded by local teen

Pa. launches first-ever ‘Teen Health Week’ spearheaded by local teen
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

An ambitious student at a Catholic prep school in the Philly’s suburbs has helped to kick off the first-ever statewide “Teen Health Week,” which launched this week..

Richard O’Flynn, a 12th grader at Devon Preparatory School in Chester County, read aloud Monday from a proclamation signed by Gov. Tom Wolf at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia andoutlined some of Teen Health Week’s goals. The initiative aims to raise awareness of all aspects of teen health issues, including diet, self-harm, and mental and sexual health.

“I honestly didn’t even think this would even come into fruition,” O’Flynn candidly told Metro.

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“My involvement started out in the summer with ‘Real Talk with Dr. Offutt’ – that I joined on as part of [her] teen health advisory board. Teen health is an important subject that should be taken seriously. Teens should not be afraid to look to other people if they have problems.”

More than seven percent – 1.7 million – of people in Pennsylvania are adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19, city officials said in a proclamation. Furthermore, less than half of Pennsylvania high school students report getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity, and 20 percent had at least one chronic health condition. Thirteen percent have seriously considered a suicide attempt, the proclamation said.

“I encourage all Pennsylvanians to recognize the value and importance of adolescent health,” O’Flynn said.

Dr. Laura Offutt, founder and creator of “Real Talk with Dr. Offutt” was one of the spearheaders of Pennsylvania Teen Health Week.

“I interact with as many teens as possible. I learn what they’re interested in,” said Offutt, who has two teenagers of her own.

“I hear weeks about bullying education or drug awareness. It seemed maybe schools would want to do a week dedicated to teen health. That was really the beginning of that idea.”

Pennsylvania Physician General Rachel Levine was slated to speak at Monday’s launch, following O’Flynn’s reading of Wolf’s proclamation, but got snowed in due to the weekend’s blizzard.

The state health department’s Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Loren Robinson filled in. Speaking directly to a group of teens from Devon Prep, she promised to continue Teen Health Week every year following year.

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“This is something we are going to elevate to serve as a model for the rest of the country,” said Robinson.

“Even though it sounds corny, you guys are the reason I do what I do. In my office, I don’t have teenagers. It’s just me, papers, books, meetings, and that’s great. But being able to talk to teenagers and see you guys here gives me inspiration to really push through the snow, take my train to Harrisburg everyday, and really try to advocate for programs that can help you guys be healthier.”

Jacqui Bowman, director of the Center for Education and Public Initiatives, manages all the education programs at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

She said the group will lookat several areas of focus this week – nutrition, exercise, substance use and abuse, violence, bullying, and sexual development and health.

“I think it’s a wonderful example of where a discussion with a group of teens has resulted in something changing – and good – for the teenagers to feel like they’re being heard by the adults who care about their health and well being. We care about our kids,” said Bowman.

The health week started Monday and will run through Friday.