Schools play a critical role in promoting the health of young people and helping them establish lifelong patterns of healthy behavior. Good health is essential for learning and retention and the development of strong cognitive ability. And ensuring good health in students has been shown to boost attendance and educational achievement, ultimately setting students up for greater success in school and in life.
Physically active kids are healthier, happier kids
Schools are an ideal setting for teaching youth how to adopt and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle through quality physical education, active and engaging recess, physical activity breaks, walk- and bike-to-school programs and out-of-school sports and activity programs.
Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents ages 6-17 engage in 60 minutes or more physical activity every day, fewer than half meet that recommendation. With students spending a majority of their days at school, it’s vital that schools support physical activity wherever possible.
The benefits of getting the recommended 60 minutes or more of physical activity are numerous:
- Helping reduce the risk of developing obesity or chronic diseases, such as diabetes
- Improving strength and endurance, helping to build healthy bones and muscles
- Supporting students’ academic performance including academic achievement and grades, academic behavior, and concentration and attentiveness
Integrating physical activity into the classroom may reactivate, engage, and energize students to focus on the classroom material. Classroom-based physical activity has been associated with improved cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior, and academic achievement. Students participating in daily physical education also exhibit better attendance and a more positive attitude towards school.
Healthy eating promotes good health and improves brainpower
Schools are in a unique position to promote healthy eating. School breakfast and lunch programs may account for more than half of a child’s daily calorie intake, so good nutrition at school is more important than ever.
Improved nutrition in schools can lead to these benefits:
- Increased focus and attention
- Improved test scores
- Better classroom behavior
- Better understanding of healthy eating behaviors
A healthy breakfast is particularly important for getting a child’s day off to a good start. Eating a healthy breakfasts is associated with improved cognitive function (especially memory), reduced absenteeism, and improved mood.
With two-thirds of the U.S. adult population and one-third of children overweight or obese, it is important to obtain adequate vitamins and/or minerals in foods and beverages with fewer calories. Schools have both the opportunity and responsibility to ensure that their cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars, and school stores offer only nutritious foods and beverages — that is, foods high in nutrition, but low in calories, fat, sugar, and salt.
Water does a body good
Water is a necessity of life, yet too many children do not have access to safe, fresh drinking water. Many schools have only a few drinking fountains to serve hundreds of students as well as teachers and staff. And while research shows that 95 percent of our public water systems provide safe water, recent incidences of contaminated drinking water highlight the need to be vigilant around ensuring water’s purity in our schools and communities.
Making safe, fresh drinking water easily accessible encourages consumption of health beverages over sugar-sweetened beverages that contain added sugar and calories.
Drinking more water has been shown to have several positive health effects:
- helps keep students focused and ready to learn
- helps prevent dental cavities
- prevents unwanted weight gain when consumed instead of sugary beverages
- provides an opportunity for staff and teachers to model healthy behaviors for students
Water is so important that all schools participating in the federally-funded National School Lunch Program are required by law to make free drinking water available to all students during meal times, wherever those meals are served. However, research shows that many students are still not meeting daily recommendations for water consumption.