Prevention is Young
Written by Carly Welham

Many people are surprised by the extent of our work with young people.

Indeed, our Youth Program has many branches. We work with university students who support our mission and want to organize events on campuses with us to educate other students and the public on our work. We work with community groups that work with young people offering our workshops on health and the environment and/or leading DIY activities (Do It Yourself activities making homemade personal care products).

And now we work with high school students offering our innovative program, Health Connections: Young People Connecting with their Environment and Communities. This program is offered in two public high schools with more planned for the fall.

We do this work because breast cancer prevention, the hard work of bringing down the incidence rate of breast cancer, starts young. It actually starts in the womb by limiting exposure of the fetus to toxic and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). And it continues all through life.

However, pre-adolescence and adolescence represent critical windows of exposure as the body is particularly sensitive to hormone disruption by EDCs. These chemicals are found in a vast array of everyday products and have been linked to a spectrum of health problems including developmental disorders, reproductive organ malformations particularly in boys, obesity, early-onset puberty and hormone-dependent cancers, including breast cancer.

While educating young people on these issues, we also explore social norms that drive our consumption of these products. Girls from a number of sociocultural backgrounds face even more complex pressures to conform and thus may use particularly dangerous products such as hair relaxers and skin lighteners.

We also do this work because we are driven by a profound indignation in the face of the statistics on the social inequalities of health. Across many illnesses including breast cancer, health outcomes are significantly worse for people from disadvantaged communities. This, even in a society with supposed free healthcare. The work to counter the barriers arising from social inequalities also must start early and that is what our program, HEALTH CONNECTIONS, aims to do.

We are so lucky to work with people of all ages in our work. Our public education activities regularly attract people from their early twenties to their eighties or even nineties. But we have learned that we can and should work with even younger people as they are developing their attitudes and learning skills to take control on their health and their environment.

And while some people may not understand why a breast cancer organization works with teenagers, interestingly, it’s something we never have to explain to the kids.