Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched its Healthy Schools initiative, providing federal funding to states to reduce risk factors related to childhood obesity and to promote the healthy well-being and development of children. This initiative is an acknowledgement of the critical role schools play in a variety of health behaviors of children and adults.
Healthy Schools highlights the "whole school, whole community, whole child" approach, with an understanding that if Americans are going to be healthier, there must be early "collaboration between communities, public health and education agencies."
As the CDC acknowledges on its website, it is easier to establish healthy behaviors during childhood than to change unhealthy behaviors in adulthood. The Healthy Schools model outlines eight components of a coordinated school health (CSH) program focusing on whole child education and prevention, which are laid out below:
Health Education: Provide a curriculum to children that helps foster healthy lifestyle decision making and develops health literacy.
Nutrition Environment Services: Ensure healthful food choices in the schools, improve food sold outside of schools, and provide professional development to school nutrition professionals.
Employee Wellness: Allow teachers, professionals, paraprofessionals and administrators to lead by example when promoting healthy behaviors in children, through initiates designed to focus on employee wellness and reduce risk factors such as physical and mental illness.
Social and Emotional School Climate: Build and foster a climate that is positive, respectful, and welcoming which helps to nurture healthy behaviors and provides a safe and supportive learning environment.
Physical Environment: Ensure the physical school environment is one with adequate ventilation, temperature, natural light, and one that protects children and adults from physical, biological, and chemical threats.
Health Services: Provide schools with adequate health professionals to intervene in health problems and help develop healthy behaviors. These professionals can include the school nurse, nurse practitioners, dentists, health educators, physicians and physician assistants.
Counseling, Psychological, and Social Services: Provide prevention and intervention efforts to help promote the social, emotional, and psychological needs for all children, and design systems and services to support the mental health of children. Professionals who help support these efforts include school psychologists, school counselors, and school social workers.
Community Involvement: Actively seek partnerships between schools and their communities to share resources and to volunteer to support health-related activities and education.
Family Engagement: Collaborate with parents and families to create a school environment where parents feel welcomed, and there is a feeling of shared responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the children.
Physical Education and Physical Activity: Commit to a physical education curriculum with certified physical education teachers, physical activity during school and after school, as well as family and community engagement.
It will take a village to promote and improve the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of America's children and adults. This initiative is definitely a step in the right direction. Any public health initiative that seeks to foster healthy behaviors in children and adults must include schools if it is going to be successful. Review these eight components of the healthy schools model and ask yourself, how healthy is your child's school?
For more information on the CDC Healthy Schools initiative, see: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/