From 2001 to 2005, staff at United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) and members of nine Indian youth councils designed and implemented Celebrate Fitness! a youth-led program of activities aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles among Native Americans.
Building on Celebrate Fitness! UNITY implemented Celebrate Native Health from 2005 to 2009. In that project, 13 youth councils promoted changes that lower barriers to healthy eating and physical activity, thereby reducing childhood obesity at community and tribal levels. The initiative tested the notion that youth-led advocacy can advance wellness in communities, especially those with hard-to-reach populations.
UNITY, a nonprofit organization based in Oklahoma City, includes some 200 youth councils in 34 states that promote personal development, citizenship and leadership among Native Americans aged 15 to 24.
Lawrence D. Brown, PhD, a health researcher and professor at Columbia University, conducted a qualitative assessment of Celebrate Fitness! from 2002 to 2005. He found that Celebrate Fitness! developed leadership and management skills among American Indian youth, and helped them gain respect in their communities. Putting money directly in the hands of youth councils sent a message of support and encouragement that this population of young people does not often receive.
Evaluators from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center assessed Celebrate Native Health during its last six months. In their report, the University of Oklahoma evaluators found that: youth-led initiatives can spur policy changes that lower barriers to physical activity and healthy eating and increase awareness of healthy lifestyles.