Skip to main content

Straight from the HIP

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Health Impact Partnership is one of many service activities undertaken by Tufts medical students through a program supported by Tisch College.


Less than half of students surveyed at Boston’s English High School are happy with their weight. 64% are worried about getting diabetes. 51% drink two or more cans of soda per day. 66% eat in front of a screen.

News of the obesity epidemic in America arrives so regularly, it doesn’t always register. But one new study is surprising not only for its results, but also for the investigators who carried it out. The Health Impact Partnership (HIP) pairs medical students at the Tufts University School of Medicine with students at Boston’s English High School to teach leadership and advocacy skills through the lens of public health and medicine. This year, ten English High students focused on the health, nutrition, and exercise habits of their peers and communities, and worked to create meaningful interventions.

“Students are selected because they show an interest in community health and the potential to be leaders,” said Emily Frank, M15, the founder of HIP. “They choose the topics they want to explore, and we help support them in gathering and interpreting data, and designing the interventions they wish to carry out.”

Engaging twelve medical students as mentors, HIP is one of many Community Service Learning (CSL) activities at the School of Medicine. With significant support from Tisch College, the school’s robust CSL program ensures that all medical students complete a significant community service project (requiring a time commitment of 50 or more hours) prior to graduation.

“There are many programs that try to teach health concepts to young people, but HIP goes well beyond that,” said Jennifer Greer-Morrissey, TUSM Community Service Learning Coordinator. “The emphasis is really on empowering young people with the tools they need to be scientists, researchers, educators, and change-agents in their schools and communities. That leadership development has been one of the most powerful and inspiring aspects of the program.”

The English High School students identified substance abuse, reproductive health, nutrition and nutrition related diseases as areas of interest, and worked with their medical student mentors on a range of activities to deepen their understanding. As their conversations evolved, they selected obesity, diabetes, and barriers to healthy eating as areas for deeper investigation. To gather data, they worked in smaller groups to design and administer surveys to other students at English High School.

In addition to the results above, HIP investigators found that:

• 26% of English High students do not think they gain weight when they eat junk food
• More than half believe that advertisements affect what they eat
• 56% feel they eat healthier at home
• 63% report exercising 3 or more days per week for 30 minutes or more
• 24% eat 4 or more candy bars per week
• 65% say they read and understand nutrition labels

With the data in hand, the students began crafting a trial intervention. They developed an information session for their peers that described their research, and incorporated clips from “Super Size Me,” a documentary about the effects of eating fast food. When they presented it to their fellow students, they served healthy snacks from a cookbook made by last year’s HIP participants. Then they gave their audience a survey, to judge what effect they had made. Among the results:

• 100% of the viewers knew “some” people or “lots” of people with diabetes, and 100% agreed that eating fast food could lead to diabetes
• 25% said they “would not continue” and 75% said they “would maybe stop” eating unhealthy foods

At the end of January the students presented their findings at the Tufts University School of Medicine. Before their talk, they met in small groups with a range of healthcare professionals, including a nurse, a pediatrician, a pharmacologist, and a nutrition scientist, to learn more about each of those medical careers. After presenting, there was a lively discussion with the audience, touching on issues of access to healthy foods, family involvement, and the challenges of a tightly scheduled school-day. The English High students said the experience gave them a much clearer sense of the scope and interrelatedness of these issues.

“Where I live, there’s lots of convenience stores and fast food,” said Jonathan Almanzar, a sophomore who worked on the diabetes survey. “But it’s harder to find the kinds of foods that we really should be eating.”

Many of the audience members were medical students not previously involved with HIP. They responded both to the high school students’ commitment to peer health and education, and to their findings.

“I was really impressed with their work,” said Andre Burey, M15. “I didn’t do any kind of research until I was well into college. To see students this age who already have this kind understanding of the issues, it’s really great.”