Health Disparities and Student Learning: Taking Action for Wellness

April 30, 2012

By Brittany Wright, HSC media and outreach specialist

As Minority Health Month comes to an end, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on efforts to address health disparities and particularly how these efforts can have an impact on student learning, an issue in focus at HSC throughout the year. Minority students from vulnerable communities face an increased risk of health problems that can hinder learning and success. Unless we address these health disparities, efforts to close the achievement gap will be comprised. At HSC, we are especially interested in school-based efforts to support student health and address the health disparities that can hold students back from success at school.  

How can we take action? I think Dr. Charles Basch, author of the report Healthier Students are Better Learners, said it best when he explained, “The single most effective approach is to address these disproportional issues collectively.” If we work together to cultivate school health and wellness, we can together create a better future for the nation’s children.

The great news is that everyone has a voice. Here in Chicago, our Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables coalition works with parents in the African American and Latino communities to move school food and fitness forward. Parents in this coalition have formed school wellness teams that supported their schools in achieving the high standards for nutrition and physical activity set by the HealthierUS School Challenge.

While on-the-ground leaders in the school community such as parents are making a difference, leaders at the district, state and national level have an important role in creating change. In Chicago, for example, school district leaders have responded to parent advocacy for recess by creating district-level policies bringing recess to all elementary schools.

HSC’s new initiative with Trust for America’s Health, Health in Mind, looks at the role that federal agencies can play in supporting school wellness and addressing health disparities. It encompasses practical policy recommendations that the nation can implement to make immediate and important improvements for health in schools. These policies can better position schools to comprehensively support health and wellness, thereby addressing health disparities, moving to close the achievement gap and helping all students achieve more. Stay tuned for more information about this initiative in the coming week!

For an overview of this issue and the ways that health disparities can affect education, check out our recent webinar with Dr. Charles Basch of Columbia Teachers College and Richard Hamburg of Trust for America’s Health.