Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Health Education: Always Approved but Still Not Always on Schools' Radar

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Health Education: Always Approved but Still Not Always on Schools' Radar

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Numerous reports and studies have touted the benefits of school health education for over five decades and extensive public health data support an association between education levels and health outcomes. This paper recounts the "tacit" approval given to school health education historically by reviewing reports issued by various governmental and nongovernmental organizations from the 1960s to the present. Whereas these reports and studies demonstrate an influence on the status of modern school health education programs, many of the barriers to effective school-based programs described 50 or more years ago continue to be challenges for school health education advocates. Additional elements that may further impact the delivery and of quality of school health education negatively in the next decade include legislation that places pressure on schools to improve students' performance on subject areas that do not include health; a declining tax base for funding education programs in general; the deterioration or complete disappearance of school health education professional preparations programs; and evolving technology that alter the ways in which students learn.

BACKGROUND

Over the past five decades, numerous reports and studies have touted the benefits of school health education and extensive public health data support an association between education levels and health outcomes. (1) For example, youth not completing high school have higher unemployment, lower health literacy and higher rates of illness and death than their graduating peers; moreover, high school graduation is associated with an increase in lifespan of six to nine years. (1) Health and social problems such as hunger, poor nutrition, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, and violence in school contribute to absenteeism, a status which increases the risk of dropout. (1-3) Data from Youth in Iceland, a population-based, cross-sectional study of 6,436 Icelandic youth, demonstrated that lower BMI, greater physical activity and proper nutrition were all associated with higher academic achievement, as well as better self-esteem. Poor nutrition negatively impacted self-esteem and academic achievement, as did higher BMI. (4) Health status not only impacts a student's potential for academic success, but academic success, in turn, determines future employment options, self-efficacy and health status in adulthood. (3)

Schools have the potential to address the cognitive, physical, social and emotional health of the 95% of American children who are enrolled in these institutions; additionally, there is evidence that collaborations between schools and community health agencies result in improvements in academic achievement and the health status of students, as well as the health of teachers and other school staff members. (1,2) Each school day is an opportunity for millions of students to learn about and practice health-promoting behaviors. Acquiring healthy habits at each stage of development is the primary component of prevention. Schools can provide the foundation for children to maximize learning at each grade level, contributing to improved health status and academic success. (1) Furthermore, students who are successful in school believe they have options for future success, which reinforces health-promoting behaviors and reduces the likelihood of negative health outcomes. (5) Although studies demonstrate that schools are capable of making a significant impact on the health of children and youth, the theme of this paper is the disparity between schools' potential contribution and the current reality. Whereas children in the United States are no longer at risk for many of the classic communicable diseases of the past, chronic diseases related to overweight and obesity, as well as new and emerging infectious diseases, threaten the health and well-being of increasing numbers of children. (6,7) Motor vehicle crashes, other unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide account for 70% of mortality in Americans under 24 years of age. …

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