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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Back to school: A check list for healthier students.

September has arrived, and students everywhere have been scrambling to get back to school supplies and prepare for their great adventure.  Schools have become the de facto environment in which many of our youth develop their lifeskills. Hence optimization their chances for their future adult lives is a worthy investment.

Education levels are a strong predictor of adult health outcomes.   Those that succeed in school, are far more likely to succeed in employment, income and health status.  So tightly linked is the relationship that education is itself considered a determinant of health.  It is a modifiable determinant, and one that can be intervened on and measured. 

In sending our children back to school, there are lists of what to be sure students have.  A scan through multiple sites provided diverse recommendations, but some solid advise:

·         Immunizations are up to date.
·         Provide hand sanitizer and reinforce handwashing hygiene
·         Make water readily accessible and avoid sugary drinks and juices.
·         Lunches are healthy (and kids probably don’t need snacks if adequately fed)
·         Provide support to anxious children
·         Be sure vision, dental and general health have had routine care.
·         Help carry school materials safely in quality knapsack or rolling bag.

This positing is about what we in public health should be doing to ensure the elementary school environment is healthy:

1.       Does it provide both breakfast options and lunch programs?
2.       Are students scheduled to receive daily rigorous physical activity?
3.       Is there a healthy food, snack and vending machine policy?
4.       Is access available for handwashing or sanitizers in every classroom?
5.       Does the school participate in a comprehensive school health initiative?
6.       Does the school district have a healthy schools committee of the board?
7.       Does the school promote curriculum that address Healthy lifestyle choices?  Healthy relationships? Healthy preparation for adulthood?
8.       Is the school setting safe?  (Play equipment meeting CSA standards, fenced,
9.       Are the travel paths to the school secure (lighting, marked or attended crosswalks, avoiding main throughways)
10.   Are there health policies to address:
o   Management of emergency health conditions
o   Management of chronic health conditions and medications
§  Students with bloodborne infections
o   Violence, bullying, racism, discrimination
o   Behaviour concerns in classroom
o   Disabilities in students
o   Overweightness in students

In the middle and secondary school environment the needs become even greater, with:

·         Policies needed to address truancy, crime, violence, drug and alcohol use.
·         Programming to support healthy sexuality, pregnancy, child support to keep students in school, counselling for substance use, counselling for mental health conditions
·         Therapy for students with developing illnesses
·         Treatment for students with developing overweight and obesity concerns

A brief scan did not find a clear cut list for schools, additional submissions are welcomed through drphealth@gmail.com and perhaps we can provide public health staff going into schools (where they still go to schools) with something concrete to take in hand.

Our southern neighbours have mandated school nursing, and while the issues of the school nurse are different, there is a focal point for health issues in schools.  Canadian public health programming sometimes fills that gap, and sometimes neglects our future generation almost totally beyond checking on their immunization status.

Check out the Canadian Association of School Health or any of its diverse provincial partners.  There are a plethora of resources typical of educators, what is often lacking is the leadership or belief that student health is a priority for schools similar to the traditional three “R”s.

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