HSC launches first-of-its-kind lifestyle medicine for teens microcredential 

Dr. Teresa Wagner, HSC School of Health Professions Assistant Professor
Dr. Teresa Wagner

The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth has launched a first-of-its-kind lifestyle medicine for teens microcredential for high school students. The free certification was developed to encourage students to create healthy habits, backed by science, at a young age.

In the 20-hour, self-paced course, students learn about the core concepts of lifestyle medicine: a whole-food, plant-based diet; regular physical activity; restorative sleep; stress management; avoidance of risky substances; and positive social connection to achieve optimal health and prevent chronic disease.

“Lifestyle medicine is crucial as the majority of health care spending in the U.S. is attributed to treating conditions caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices,” said Dr. Teresa Wagner, an HSC assistant professor in the Department of Personalized Health and Well-Being and interim director of SaferCare Texas, HSC’s patient safety-focused department. “These conditions include heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer, all of which can be prevented with lifestyle medicine.”

Educating high schoolers about this approach can prevent these diseases from occurring in the future by focusing on building healthy habits. Lifestyle medicine can operate at all three levels of public health intervention − preventing, treating and even reversing these conditions.

The creation of this microcredential is the result of a unique collaboration between Wagner; Aravind Venkatachalam, who recently graduated from high school, and Dr. Beth Frates, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

The trio began working together in fall 2020, when Venkatachalam was a high school sophomore in Frisco. He created an online program to educate fellow teenagers on healthy lifestyle choices as part of a state health competition. Wanting to formalize the course, he reached out to Wagner for advice, and she posed the idea of creating a microcredential.

“Microcredentials are highly accessible to students of varying backgrounds and locations,” Wagner said. “And there is the added benefit of providing a substantive certificate to document their efforts as they apply for college.”

She added that addressing health equity is a big part of the course.

“Lifestyle medicine education cannot just be available to more privileged students, Wagner said. “It must also be available to students from under-resourced communities where health disparities are common.”

During Venkatachalam’s research for course materials, he came across the “Teen Lifestyle Medicine Handbook: The Power of Healthy Living” written by Frates. Wagner reached out to Frates for permission to use the book’s content in the microcredential coursework, and the ACLM president eagerly agreed.

Beth Frates
Dr. Beth Frates

“Dr. Frates agreeing to help and sharing her handbook was a huge breakthrough,” Venkatachalam said. “That’s what I used, from top to bottom, to build the microcredential course because the information was so well researched and presented.”

To qualify to take the microcredential, a student should be enrolled in a high school — public, private or home-based — and must have attended school for at least 90% of the time during the fall or spring semester before the application date. Additionally, the student should have a good academic record, show an interest in lifestyle health, and be willing and dedicated to participating in all training activities.

To enroll in the free “Lifestyle Medicine for Teens” microcredential, visit learningplus.unthsc.edu/courses/lifestyle-medicine-for-teens.

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