August 7, 2013 - Guest PFCD blog by Shirley Schantz, EdD, ARNP, RN and Angela Shubert, National Association of School Nurses
The statistics are startling and demand attention: One in three children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese. Today’s children could be the first generation to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents. But we can reverse this trend and bring health costs down at the same time by investing in transformative and cross-cutting disease prevention programs. This is why the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) believes that addressing obesity in America should be a national priority. We can save children from life-threatening diseases by better managing and preventing obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases.
School nurses serve vulnerable populations by addressing their health risks and promoting healthy lifestyles and disease prevention for students during their early and most impressionable years – and lasting through high school. School nurses perform early intervention screenings for vision, hearing, height, weight and blood pressure and refer children at risk, advocate for policy change, provide health education in schools, and lead programs that promote healthy lifestyles for all children.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 52 million, or 98 percent of school-aged children attend school 6 to 8 hours every day for at least 180 days a year. This makes schools the ideal place for health prevention strategies that reduce development of chronic health conditions and promote healthy lifestyles. For many of our nation’s students, school nurses are their only health care provider and only access to health care.
From the beginning, school nurses have been focused on preventing illness. More than 100 years ago, New York City decided to place public health nurses in its schools to treat contagious diseases. The city saw immediate results. Student attendance rates improved by 90 percent.
Evidence shows that improving health is inextricably linked to improved student learning. For example, preventable chronic health issues such as asthma, diabetes and obesity can lead to poor performance and increased absenteeism in school. Health risk behaviors such as physical inactivity and substance abuse can also lead to consistent underachievement, reflected in students’ attendance, grades, and in-class behaviors. Promoting healthy lifestyle choices among students, such as integrating daily physical activity and providing access to healthy foods, strongly correlates to improved academic preparedness.
This is why school nurses take their role in promoting healthy lifestyles seriously. School nurses lead and engage in a variety of creative activities to encourage wellness and health promotion, including: helping to implement improved school meal options, planting school gardens, creating walking paths, opening school exercise facilities for all, coaching a school athletic team, promoting walk-to-school days, organizing health fairs, providing health awareness at PTA nights, counseling students one-on-one about healthy lifestyles, teaching health education classes and enrolling eligible students in health insurance programs.
Addressing overweight and obesity in schools is increasingly important as our nation begins to move our health care system from one that is high-cost and high-volume to one that is high-value and focused on prevention. Paving a path that allows the future generation of America to become healthy, productive citizens is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. As our nation works to address current economic challenges, investing in efforts to prevent obesity and obesity-related chronic disease is a common sense approach to improving health and reducing costs for families, schools and communities. For more information go to www.nasn.org.
Shirley Schantz, EdD, ARNP, RN
Director of Nursing Education
National Association of School Nurses
Former Assistant Director of Government Affairs
National Association of School Nurses