Health Course Helps Teens Reduce Weight and Depression

Teen with therapist

The COPE program has been shown to positively effect teens’ mental and physical health.
Image: Shutterstock

The COPE Healthy Lifestyles TEEN Program may have an unwieldy name, but according to a recent study by scholars at Ohio State University, it’s an effective health program that reduces depression and unhealthy weight in teens who take the course. COPE stands for Creating Opportunities for Personal Empowerment, and TEEN for Thinking, Emotions, Exercise, Nutrition.

While most health courses, including those taught to the control group for this study, focus on the basics of nutrition, exercise, and disease, the COPE program leans on aspects of CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, a model often used to treat depression and anxiety. The program helps teens realize that how they think is directly related to how they feel and behave, and it helps them develop the skills to feel better emotionally and physically.

As for the study itself, it looked at 779 teens aged 14 to 16 in high schools in the American southwest. Half attended a control class, and half were enrolled in COPE. In a 12-month follow-up after the courses were finished, only 4.8% of COPE students moved into the overweight category, and none moved into the obese category. 10% of the students in the control group moved into either the overweight or obese categories within that time. And students on public assistance who took the COPE program saw a greater than average body mass decrease over the course of the program.

Perhaps more important, students with depression left the COPE program with lower depression levels. Students with general depression moved into the “normal” range, while students with elevated depression generally had reduced, but still present, depression.

This later aspect is perhaps where COPE shines, as youth depression is rarely treated during youth, when it can have a significant, negative impact on a person’s life. Identifying and treating students with depression is important to helping them grow and become adults, and the COPE program makes that easier to do outside of one-on-one therapy sessions.

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