BY CHRIS KJOLHEDE AND THOMAS HOHENSEE
Parents, schools, and the community, with the support of the health care system, can have a real and lasting impact on the health and nutrition of our children. This fall the Bassett Healthcare Network launched an initiative with five area schools that aims to do just that as part of the Healthy Schools, N.Y. campaign.
Our children spend at least seven hours a day in school and so our school districts have a significant opportunity to help students take responsibility for their own health and nutrition by making wise health choices. At the same time, there is an opportunity to also positively impact the health of others who work within the schools' walls, namely faculty and staff.
An environment that nurtures learning, achievement and growth of character is an ideal environment to also promote healthy living.
During the past five years school wellness committees in our schools have made strides to see that: "¢ all students are taught the essential knowledge and skills they need to become "health literate" -- that is, to make healthy choices and avoid risky behaviors;
"¢ their schools are organized to reinforce students' healthy behaviors, and school staff are encouraged to model healthy lifestyles; and
"¢ the nutrition, physical education, health and social services children need in order to learn are provided either at the school site or in cooperation with other community agencies.
These core elements of school health are critical because health and success in school are so interrelated.
However, the New York State Department of Health notes that some school health and nutrition goals have not been met. This limits schools in their ability to achieve their primary mission of education. Specifically, recent studies suggest that: "¢ school district wellness policies often could be better aligned with national recommendations for nutrition and physical activity;
"¢ the rules about foods and beverages offered outside of school meal programs often don't comply with federal guidelines;
"¢ not all schools are providing the required amount of physical education classes, and tobacco products continue to be used on school grounds.
Additionally, national surveys indicate that young people are making poor choices about their health and nutrition, putting them at risk for serious health issues later in life. Schools can play a vital role in preventing chronic health problems in the students of today, who are also the adults of tomorrow. One example of the need for schools to support student health lies in the estimate that 1 in 3 American children born in 2000 is likely to develop diabetes.
The life expectancy of those who develop diabetes is projected to be 13 years shorter than the national average. This means that many children born in the new millennium can be expected to live substantially shorter lives than their parents.
The Bassett Healthcare Network has the chance to help. Bassett recently won an award from the New York State Department of Health to partner with schools to improve health. The program, Healthy Schools N.Y., creates collaboration with schools and is part of a statewide effort to support healthy school environments where students, faculty and staff alike can live well and learn well.
We are piloting this initiative with five schools in the region. The first step is to identify state and federal school health and nutrition guidelines.
We will work with school boards to adopt and enact these guidelines. The goal of these efforts will be to provide resources to schools and respond to community and family needs using methods that have been shown to be effective.
This grant will help schools with the resources needed to create a coordinated school health program.
Technical assistance, professional development, and substitute teacher stipends will be provided to assist school faculty and staff with the skills, training and support to foster a healthy school culture.
Better health for all involved is achievable with the participation and support of many throughout the school community, including school administration, faculty, staff, families, students and local community organizations and leaders.
The stakes are high. These are our kids. This is the future. We're eager to help.
DR. CHRIS KJOLHEDE is director of School- Based Health for the Bassett Healthcare Network. THOMAS HOHENSEE is Bassett's project