We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, it’s one of the four H’s: Head, Heart, Hands, Health.
The latest findings in an ongoing study at Tufts University found youth involved in 4-H had healthier living behaviors than youth who do not participate in 4-H. 4-H’ers were:
– two times less likely to engage in drug use;
– two times less likely to use cigarettes or drink alcohol; and
– more likely to spend time exercising or being physically active.
“The comparisons we’ve made between 4-H youth and other young people highlight the considerable strengths and health of the young men and young women participating in 4-H around the country,” said Dr. Richard Lerner, of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts.
The Tufts longitudinal study (the fancy term for a study that looks at the same group of individuals every year) is looking at changes in about 4,000 kids from 45 states, grades 5 to 10, involved in a variety of programs, like 4-H, YMCA, Scouting, and Boys and Girls Clubs. These young people weren’t just in rural, farm areas either — they lived in suburban and urban areas, too, and came from a variety of racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.
And it’s not just the healthy living that’s the good news: In previous years, the study found youth in 4-H were more likely than other youth to make contributions to their communities (indeed, community service projects are a hallmark of 4-H club work). Teens see that there’s a bigger world out there. The study also previously found that 4-H’ers are 1.6 times as likely as youth in other activities to have better grades (B and above), and 1.8 times as likely to expect to go to college.
In general, 4-H youth were 25 percent higher on the study’s “contribution” measure and 41 percent lower on the risk/problem behavior measure than youth who participated in other youth activities.
Here’s the thing: At a critical time in their development, when adolescents are “at risk” for problem behavior, 4-H participants have a model for something good, something solid. Yes, it’s the great programming and opportunities that 4-H offers, but it’s also about people. Peers are important at this time in their lives, but the real heroes are the caring, committed adults who work with these youth. These adult volunteers influence the youth’s life paths in a positive direction, building important life skills along the way. The average 4-H’er reports having 3.58 adult mentors — that’s huge! What young person wouldn’t benefit from having four more adults who cared about them!
Actually, the four H’s are all about developing the five C’s: competence, confidence, connection, character and caring. And the researchers found that young people whose lives included those five C’s were on track to develop a sixth C: “contributions to self, family, community, and to the institutions of a civil society.”
Couldn’t the world use a little more of that!