Why Schools Need Comprehensive Health Education
When you hear “health education,” it probably conjures up old memories of cursory lessons on puberty or maybe sex education. Perhaps you had some nutrition lessons here and there.
But comprehensive health education is not only so much more than that, it’s vital to a child’s overall well-being. Because kids spend so much of their time in school, it makes schools a key place to holistically promote and improve the mental and physical health of students and set them up for a bright future. Health education sets kids up with the skills and habits they need to be productive, thriving adults.
Why is this so important?
The exposures, behaviors, and habits that impact young children deeply affect their long-term health. Many adult health problems, from disease to depression to substance abuse and more, result from childhood. One of the best ways to prevent ill health in all its forms is to educate and expose children and adolescents to healthy behaviors and coping skills. Comprehensive health education can do just that. Students who receive comprehensive health education make safer, more informed, less destructive choices. They eat and sleep better and stay more physically active. They are better communicators and have stronger self-esteem.
What is comprehensive school health education?
Comprehensive school health education addresses the physical, social, and emotional aspects of health (the health of the whole child) via a structured and sequential curriculum. Lessons should be age-appropriate, scientifically accurate, and taught at every grade level.
In order for comprehensive health education to be effective, it needs to be monitored and evaluated for success by a professional with expertise in this field, such as a school health or wellness coordinator or manager. Teachers must be trained in health topics in order to implement the curriculum properly, and a yearly minimum number of instruction hours must be set and followed. For maximum benefit to kids, family and community involvement is crucial in the planning phases.
Health education curriculum should include interactive, hands-on skill-building exercises in addition to lessons. Topics would ideally cover:
- Mental/emotional health: Recognizing issues, seeking help, and developing coping skills
- Nutrition and healthy eating habits
- The importance and benefits of physical activity
- Illness and disease prevention
- Sexual health and education
- Risk behavior prevention: Drug and alcohol use, violence and aggression, sexual risk behaviors, and others
- Family life and health and personal health
- Social skills: Building positive relationships, active listening and other interpersonal skills, inclusion and acceptance, and healthy dating behaviors
How can you play a part?
Whether you are an educator or school professional or you’re a parent or caregiver, you can advocate for comprehensive health education in your school. The benefits are clear, and every child, regardless of their neighborhood or state, deserves to have supportive, nurturing adults helping them develop these critical skills and habits. Our health is the most important thing we have as humans, so setting up kids, an extremely vulnerable group, to thrive should be schools’ biggest priority.
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