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Prevention success: Start them young, stay positive

June 25, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Research indicates that first grade isn’t too early to have an effect on future drug-using behaviors

How young is too young when it comes to initiating a prevention curriculum in the schools? New research published in the American Journal of Public Health indicates that when the messages focus on positive social development rather than negative behaviors, interventions beginning as early as first grade could pay off greatly later on.

A study conducted in Hawaii elementary schools, results of which will be published in the print journal in August, found that 10-to-11 year olds who had been exposed to a curriculum called Positive Action were half as likely as other youths to report substance use, violent behavior or voluntary sexual activity. The prevalence of these problem behaviors was lowest among youths in the study who had received at least three years of Positive Action lessons.

The curriculum is made up of short lessons on subjects that include responsible self-management, self-improvement, and getting along with others. The approach emphasizes teacher/student contact and interaction, and involves all members of the school community. Hawaii schools that implemented Positive Action offered the lessons for about an hour a week, starting in first or second grade.

“The fact that an intervention beginning in the first grade produced a significant effect on children’s behavior in the fifth grade strengthens the case for initiating prevention programs in elementary school, before most children have begun to engage in problem behaviors,” Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said in a statement about the research.

The schools that were selected for the study had below-average scores on standardized tests, with the majority of students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Brian Flay, the study’s lead researcher with Oregon State University, next will conduct research to determine whether the positive effects seen in youths ages 10 and 11 are sustained in later years.

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