Poverty negatively affects the health of young people—they often attend low-achieving schools, live in unsafe neighborhoods, and have poor self-esteem. Those who find their way out of poverty in adulthood remain at higher risk for chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Researchers, including a team at Northwestern University, are illuminating ways to help young people rise out of poverty and achieve long-term wellness. Key among the recommended interventions are supportive relationships with mentors, teachers, and other caring adults.
“We’ve found in our research that high-quality social relationships actually have benefits for the health of low-income kids,” says Northwestern psychology professor Edith Chen, PhD. “We’ve looked at the impact of mentorship, and also the impact of nurturing parents, and we see that lower-income children with these relationships are in better health.”
The supportive, healthy relationships formed between mentors and youth are both immediate and long-term and contribute to a host of benefits for young people, including:
- Increased high school graduation rates
- Lower high school dropout rates
- Healthier relationships and lifestyle choices
- Better attitude about school
- Higher college enrollment rates and higher educational aspirations
- Enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence
- Improved behavior, both at home and at school
- Stronger relationships with parents, teachers, and peers
- Improved interpersonal skills
- Decreased likelihood of initiating drug and alcohol use
However, high-quality relationships with caring adults can be hard to come by for kids. That’s why HealthPATH’s approach is so effective. It provides outstanding mentors and importantly, according to the research, meets kids where they are—at local middle schools and high schools. By teaching real-world skills, modeling healthy interactions, and providing encouragement and support in a professional setting, HealthPATH’s mentors illuminate a path to a brighter future.