Ask anyone who works in education if healthy children learn better and the answer will be a resounding, “YES, of course!”
There are numerous studies that support this simple answer, as well as a comprehensive report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that will serve as a great reference for reports, grant applications or other uses in your state, locals or districts.
All the things that go into good physical health – nutritious food, adequate sleep, routine medical care and vaccinations, maintaining a healthy weight, physical activity, hand washing, etc. – all of these are linked to your students (and children’s!) learning readiness and ability to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.
We’ve broken this broad category down into the following sections:
Childhood Obesity: In the United States, obesity among children and adolescents is at epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) one in three children in the U.S. are overweight or obese. In the past three decades obesity rates for children have tripled. Along with obesity comes physical, psychological and social consequences, which for children trying to learn who they are and how they fit in with their peers, can be all the more challenging. Being obese or overweight can negatively impact self-image and self-esteem and leave children and teens more vulnerable to bullying.
Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Healthy school food is integral for student preparedness and learning. NEA Healthy Futures combats hunger and obesity through programs like Breakfast in the Classroom and Bag the Junk, while helping students develop life-long healthy habits. Policy changes and program improvements that affect individual and school-system-wide behavior change are helping to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Join us in advancing towards every school food option being a healthy choice.
Hunger: While seemingly a paradox to the increasing rate of obesity in the U.S., hunger is also on the rise. In 2012, 14.5 percent of households – 49 million people – were food insecure at some point during that year (i.e. having limited or uncertain access to nutritious, safe foods necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle), including 15.9 million children. That’s 1 in 5 kids who struggle with hunger in the United States. Because children spend the majority of their time at school, the school environment is an ideal venue to identify and address childhood hunger issues through programs like Breakfast in the Classroom.
Physical Activity, Play and Screen-time: Simply put, healthy students learn better. Physically active students get better grades, exhibit better classroom behaviors, are absent less and perform better cognitively. And for children, physical activity can come in many forms, including recess and good old-fashioned outdoor play, which has multiple mental and behavioral health benefits as well! As we look for ways to help our students increase their physical activity time, we must also help them find strategies for decreasing their screen-time, which is approximately 7.5 hours a day and continuing to increase. Screen-time not only promotes sedentary behavior, but exposes them to tremendous amounts of unhealthy food and beverage advertising. This can make it hard to make healthy choices.
Sexual and Reproductive Health: Schools are an optimal location to educate children and young adults about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy. Each year there are approximately 19 million new sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections, about half of which are contracted by males and females aged 15-24. In addition, approximately 750,000 teenage girls become pregnant each year. This section offers resources and information on the most common sexual transmitted diseases (STDs) and teen pregnancy prevention.