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Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
targeting black 5th grade students in rural South Carolina (Pate et al., 1997) and the Minnesota Heart Health Program, one site of three in a large-scale cardiovascular risk reduction study (Keldner et al., 1993) are two community-based studies demonstrating promising trends in dietary choices (Keldner et al., 1993) and physical activity (Keldner et al., 1993; Pate et al., 1997) but no significant changes in behaviors at this point in the study. New programs focused jointly on diet and exercise have been developed by such organizations as Boys and Girls Clubs of America (e.g., their Body Works program) and Girls, Inc. (e.g., their Peer Coaches, Steppingstones, and Bridges programs) and are currently moving beyond successful pilot tests to more comprehensive evaluations. Given the paucity of community-based studies, it is premature to discount the potential effectiveness of programs to promote healthy eating and physical activity delivered in such community settings as recreation centers, churches, and schools. There is a need to better understand how community health promotion programs work with school-based and family interventions to foster optimal physical health.
There is quite strong support for the importance of life skills, academic success in school, “planfulness,” and good decision-making skills for positive development. Academic success is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful predictors of both present and future well-being, including mental health, school completion and ultimate educational attainment, ultimate occupational attainment, prosocial values and behaviors, good relations with parents and prosocial friends, high levels of volunteerism, and low levels of involvement in such problematic behaviors as risky sexual behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, and involvement in criminal activities (e.g., Alexander et al., 1993, 1994; Clausen, 1993; Elder, 1998; Elder and Conger, 2000; Entwisle and Alexander, 1993; Entwisle et al., 1987; Jessor et al., 1991; Scales and Leffert, 1999; Schweinhart et al., 1993; Werner and Smith, 1982, 1992).
Interestingly, the link of academic success in school to mental health and self-esteem is much weaker for blacks and for females (Eccles et al., 1999). As a group of individuals (such as blacks or females) learns that they are not expected to do well in school (or in math and physical science for females) and in fact do not do as well as other groups, they often, according to Claude Steele (Steele, 1992; Steele and Aronson, 1995), come to place less importance on doing well in school (or math and