Youth Health Champions


The Youth Health Champion programme, developed in Waltham Forest, gives young people the skills, knowledge and confidence to act as peer mentors, increase their awareness of healthy lifestyles and encourage involvement in activities that promote good health.

These health champions, once trained, not only see an improvement to their own health and wellbeing, they help to strengthen and share public health messaging, they play a key role as young social prescribers – providing sign posting and links to other young people – and as peer mentors, helping others to understand and improve their own health and wellbeing.

Videos from the Youth Health Champions programme

How it works

The local authority, who funds the programme, works with local schools who lead on identifying students to become health champions. The local authority provide the schools with a pack including a job description, so that they can sign up to be part of the programme. 

A designated person at the school oversees the champions work and brings them together regularly. These coordinators are usually quite passionate about health and wellbeing of young people as often this is something outside of their existing job description.

Once identified the young people (from age 14) join a two-day training programme where they undertake the Royal Society of Public Health qualification for young health champions. The programme covers four modules. The first gives a basic understanding of the key determinants of health, followed by a research task about the health facilities in their own community, practice at delivering health messages to their peers, and one specialist module to deepen their understanding of a specific aspect of health. We also invite different services in the Borough to speak to the YHCs to explain what they offer.

This training leads to an assessment for either the RSPH Level 2 Certificate for Young Health Champions, which is equivalent to a GCSE (13QCF credits) or theRSPH Level 1 Health Improvement Award. Find out more about the training and how it works by hearing from Dawn Mitchell the Programme Lead for Social Prescribing Youth Network who runs a ‘train the trainer’ programme in Waltham Forest (The Social Prescribing Youth Network are not the commissioned provider for the schools YHC programme). 

Once trained the youth health champions are similar to social prescribers. They work by “sign-posting” or “linking” students to other health professionals and services and are not there to provide direct health advice, nor offer counselling or one to one support. Find out more about setting up a YHC scheme here. 

Additionally, the champions work together to plan and deliver health promotion campaigns to their peers, as well as supporting a wide range of other school committees, school councils, pupil voice and steering groups, PSHE lessons, and health focus events during break and lunchtimes.

Why it works

There are many benefits of the youth health champions programme. The programme has won awards for its work, it encourages ownership and personal responsibility for health among young people, it supports children to become active in their local communities and become advocates for public health messaging among their peers. Importantly it helps us achieve our goals by maximising the potential to share positive messaging about health, wellbeing and prevention and having a positive impact on health inequalities. The below ‘at a glance’ list brings together some of the key benefits:

  1. It allows young people to be more in control of their health and wellbeing decisions
  2. It allows young people to support their peers
  3. It boosts the confidence of those who participate in the programme
  4. Each champion has the ability to influence and reach 100+ young people
  5. Messages coming from young people to young people have more weight and impact leading to greater behaviour change
  6. The champions become advocates and role models within their communities
  7. The champions lead and deliver public health campaigns
  8. The champions raise awareness of public health issues
  9. The champions positively influence their family and friends
  10. The earlier we can support people to become self-aware of their health and lifestyle choices the more we can influence positive health outcomes for future generations.

Key achievements

From a programme perspective, we have so far managed to train over 340 young people. Our research has shown that each champion has the potential to reach around 100 other young people, so our collective reach has been in the thousands. 

For the young people, we can see a massive difference in their confidence, their understanding of local services and their ability to navigate the complex health and care system between pre and post training. We have seen the impact on their own lives through taking personal positive action, as well as their influence with their family and friends.

For the wider community, the champions lead on many health and wellness programmes to impact positively on the wider community. This has included:

  • collecting one tonne of food for a food bank;
  • supporting the period poverty project, which won a team London award;
  • running a Violence Against Women and Girls campaign called ‘Stop the Silence’, which won a RSPH award;
  • One of the champions became the first youth member of the RSPH Board;
  • Supporting the mental health campaign ‘Forest Minds’, which won a team London runner up award;
  • Running workshops for key worker children during Covid;
  • developing actions cards for kindness, body image, exam stress.

What next

If you want to develop a local version of the youth health champions programme in your area please read the ‘how to guide’ with hints and tips about the process and points to consider.  The guide includes contact details of the project lead if you have further questions.

UPDATED: 11/10/2021