Adolescents who volunteer appear to benefit themselves and may reduce risk markers for CVD, systemic inflammation, cholesterol and obesity, according to the findings in a new report.
“These findings are significant because they indicate that youth who engage in volunteering not only help others, but also benefit themselves, suggesting a novel way to improve health while simultaneously making positive contributions to society,” Hannah M. C. Schreier, PhD, of the department of pediatrics, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and colleagues wrote.
For the randomized controlled trial, researchers studied 106 high school adolescents in western Canada during the 2011-2012 school year. Students were randomly assigned to volunteer programs at an elementary school for 10 weeks, through which they worked with elementary school-aged children.
After 4 months, the adolescent volunteers had significantly decreased levels of interleukin-6 (log10 mean difference, 0.13), cholesterol (log10 mean difference, 0.03) and BMI (mean difference, 0.39) vs. adolescents assigned to a control group. Differences in C-reactive protein levels were marginal (log10 mean difference, 0.13), researchers reported.
According to a preliminary analysis, the greatest decreases in CV risk over time were among adolescent volunteers who increased the most in empathy and altruistic behaviors and decreased the most in negative mood.
“If we can engage adolescents in volunteering by making it a standard recommendation akin to physical activity or by incorporating it as a regular part of school curricula, we have the potential of reducing CV risk markers in these adolescents,” the researchers wrote.
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.