CALGARY – On February 11 and 12, United Way of Calgary and Area, in partnership with Alberta Health Services and Calgary Police Service, will host Dr. Álfgeir Kristjánsson, senior scientist with Planet Youth, a community-driven research-based prevention model that has seen substance use among Icelandic youth drop radically since its inception 20 years ago. The program saw the proportion of 10th graders who reported becoming drunk during the last 30 days decrease from 42% in 1998 to less than 5% in 2018. Over the same period, daily smoking decreased from 23% to 2%, and those who had tried cannabis from 17% to 6%.

Research shows that the earlier in life youth begin using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, the more likely they will develop dependencies on these substances in later years. The Icelandic model helps prevent and delay the use of these substances in youth, taking an upstream approach to this issue and addressing the root causes of this problem to mitigate its impact.

“Success of the model depends on research-informed practice, using a community-based approach, and creating and maintaining connections between research, policy and practice,” Kristjánsson explains.

Planet Youth identifies the following factors that influence youth behaviours: 1) family factors, 2) extracurricular activities/sports, 3) peer group effect, and 4) school well-being. The model offers a community-based approach that includes parental engagement with one another, their neighbourhoods and schools; a significant effort to ensure visibility of the program in the community; and involvement of those who organize youth activities.

Developed by Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis at Reykjavik University (ICSRA) in 1999, more than 40 municipalities in 23 countries currently use aspects of the Planet Youth approach.

“We are pleased to offer this learning opportunity and bring people together to address the growing issue of mental health and addictions in our city,” says Karen Young, President and CEO, United Way of Calgary and Area.

Bringing the community together to design solutions to complex social problems is what United Way does. The timing is right as work begins on The City of Calgary’s mental health and addiction strategy, and growing recognition that this work requires a community-led approach that drives systems change. The societal costs are too great for status quo. The strain on the human services sector and gap between needs and resources continues to grow. We know there will never be enough money to combat this social issue with our health and justice systems. We need an integrated, holistic, community-led approach.”

The symposium is expected to bring together more than 120 community leaders from a continuum of services, including health, education and research, social services, police, government, and community. Guest participation reflects the breadth and depth of societal impacts that span numerous networks.


About Álfgeir Kristjánsson

Dr. Kristjánsson is an associate professor at West Virginia University in the School of Public Health, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. In addition to earning his doctorate in social medicine, he completed post-doctoral training at Columbia University in New York. Originally from Iceland, Dr. Kristjánsson is the Senior Scientist, Planet Youth, Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis at Reykjavik University.

About United Way of Calgary and Area

United Way of Calgary and Area brings together donors, corporations, agencies, and government to solve complex issues and improve the lives of more than 150,000 people every year. Since 1940, United Way has supported agencies that assist vulnerable Calgarians. Today, United Way invests in programs and collaborations with common outcomes, brings people together to coordinate systems change, and designs solutions that address root causes to create lasting social change. Collectively, this work deepens community impact.

For more information, please contact:

Lisa Rushka
[email protected]

Yvette Biggs
Vice President, Marketing & Communications
United Way of Calgary and Area
[email protected]