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Body shop for teens: ECU's LEAP program focuses on health

(June 6, 1995)   —   The nurse listened attentively as the slim and attractive young woman, a high school student, described her relationship with food.
“Some days, I feel really hungry. Then I think of myself as overweight and unattractive and I’m not hungry anymore. Eating makes me feel ugly,” the student said.
While her descriptions signaled traits of an eating disorder, the student, a high school junior, was only playing the role of an anorexic teen. She and a dozen of her classmates at Pisgah High School in Waynesville spent an afternoon in the late spring at a special training program for school health professionals.
East Carolina University sponsored the program to help nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, nutritionists and social workers become more familiar with the health problems of teens. ECU also conducted a similar four-day workshop in Asheboro and a series of teleconferences and seminars this summer for a project known as LEAP (Linking Education and Providers).
“We, as adults, tend to look at teens in the ways we remember ourselves as teenagers—being young, carefree and generally healthy,” said Carol G. Cox, a member of the ECU School of Nursing faculty and the project’s director.
“But the health risks facing teens today are greater than ever before. Promiscuity not only results in unwanted pregnancy, it can lead to incurable diseases that kill. Substance abuse is also a major concern along with suicide and youth violence,” she said.
The LEAP project, which started last fall, assists the health and school professionals at the 20 school-based health centers in 18 North Carolina counties.

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The centers, with catchy names like “The Body Shop,” promote healthy lifestyles and provide services including health assessments and counseling that is sometimes overlooked by the teens and their parents. Although the centers are on school property, the students must have permission from their parents to visit or receive services.
The LEAP project, according to the coordinators, is specifically designed to help the practitioners at the health centers become more aware of the special health care problems and other issues of teens.
“Most people who work in the clinics don’t have the formal training in providing care for teens,” said Dr. Sam Parrish, a pediatrician at the ECU School of Medicine.
He said there are a many areas in providing good health care for adolescents that are different from adult health care. For instance, he said, teens normally are all arms and legs, with small trunks, and they often are awkward in their movements while their bodies adjust to rapid growth and puberty.
Such “symptoms,” he said, could be a signal for health problems in adults, but are usually normal for adolescents.
Others members of the ECU faculty working with the project include; Dr. Linner Griffin, a social work professor in the School of Social Work, and Dr. David White, a health education professor in the School of Health and Human Performance. Griffin is providing expertise on interacting with teens during family crises while White offers advice on teen violence intervention.
A popular part of the workshops held in Asheboro and Waynesville this spring were the interview sessions with the teenage vo