Exciting Times For School Health Advocates

July 01, 2013

These are very exciting times to be a school health advocate. People are starting to see school health as an important policy issue that has impacts across a broad range of areas.

by Mark Bishop

These are very exciting times to be a school health advocate. Every day I see people coming together around the importance of the school environment when it comes to student wellness. I frequently read significant studies and engaging articles on school health issues, from advocates across the country calling for healthier snack and beverage options at school to states working to measure the impact of physical education on their students.

When Healthy Schools Campaign was founded more than ten years ago, the discussion surrounding school wellness was very different. Not many people were making the connection between student health and academic achievement–only a few strong advocates were working in this area. That’s not to say there weren’t many people doing important work. The Environmental Protection Agency was leading the way on school environmental health with their Tools for Schools program. The American Lung Association was doing significant work on asthma prevention in schools. But there was no broader conversation connecting the many important issues that affect students.

Now the conversation has changed, and in all the best ways. People are starting to see school health as an important policy issue that has impacts across a broad range of areas. In June, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the Association of Educational Publishers and the Association of American Publishers released a set of new voluntary standards for incorporating health and wellness messages into educational publishing and classroom learning. That same week, HSC was proud to participate in a meeting with the United States Green Building Council Center for Green Schools and learn more about their work creating a space where legislators from across the country and from both sides of the aisle to share their visions for greener, more sustainable schools.

Just this last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new set of standards around “competitive foods”–food and beverages served in schools outside the National School Lunch Program, which includes vending machines, school stores and a la carte cafeteria items. The new standards call for more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less sugar, saturated fat and sodium in the snacks and beverage students consume throughout the school day. HSC, PreventObesity.net and more than 100 other organizations mobilized allies to submit comments in support of the proposed guidelines during the comment period. The USDA received thousands of letters on this issue urging them to stand up for healthy school snacks and beverages.

And this is only a small sampling of the many activities, campaigns and efforts, large and small, that are going on across the country. The most pleasantly surprising and encouraging aspect of this for me is the variety of passionate people and organizations who are getting involved in policy issues around school health, from like-minded organizations in Colorado collaborating on a statewide school wellness indicator to parents in Chicago spearheading the campaign for daily recess for elementary school students.

Now is the perfect time to get involved in this exciting, growing movement. And you don’t have to be part of a large national organization to do it. It can start in your home, at your local school, in your community. You can start by talking to the principal at your neighborhood school and the school wellness team to find out what initiatives are going on around student health and wellness. You can read our Health in Mind report and the latest academic research to learn more about the connections between student health and academic achievement and why education is a public health issue. You can write to your elected officials at the local, state and federal levels and let them know that you are a constituent who cares about these issues. There are so many ways to get involved and add your voice to these important conversations.