Healthy Schools Build a Healthier Oregon

Schools and the people inside them are important to me because I come from a long line of educators. My parents, both of my grandfathers, three aunts and one uncle were—or still are—teachers.

Even though I didn’t follow my relatives’ career path, I can tell that schools have become healthier over the past few decades. For example, when I attended Mountain View High School in Bend in the late ’80s, tobacco was a constant presence. Our school even had a dedicated “smoking zone” on campus—for the students.

Today at Mountain View, I’m thrilled and proud to see students like Taylor Johnson taking on Big Tobacco by raising awareness among her peers of the dangers of e-cigarettes. Since 2006, Oregon public schools have been tobacco free—a recognition of tobacco’s role as the No. 1 preventable cause of death and disease in our state, killing 7,000 Oregonians each year. This policy not only protects kids but supports school employees in living tobacco-free – we know this works as only five percent of school employees smoke cigarettes.

Such achievements are part of an ongoing movement across Oregon to create a culture of health in our schools through sustained policies and wellness efforts. This movement matters to all of us, whether or not we have school-age children, because schools affect more than students.


They are workplaces for teachers and staff; athletic facilities for kids and adults; meeting places for Scout troops and civic groups; and community hubs that draw people to sporting events, festivals and weekend farmers markets. They are one of the main places where Oregonians live our lives—which means they have a big impact on our health.

Schools can’t do it all, of course; it’s vital that students and staff continue to have access to physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco-free living outside the schoolhouse doors. But when our schools are healthy, they help our communities become healthier, too.


Inside the classroom, healthy students are better learners, research shows.

Ultimately, healthy students are more likely to graduate from high school and become productive citizens. They are less likely to get chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer that can affect their quality of life and the whole community.

So what does a school with a strong culture of health look like? Many Oregon schools already are showing us, in a variety of ways:

  • Serving school meals that meet nutrition standards calling for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Hosting healthy activities and fundraisers such as dance-a-thons and skate nights that make physical activity fun, safe and accessible.
  • Creating safe routes for walking and biking that support not only the students and staff, but all the people, who live near a school.


We all have a stake in creating healthier schools. I hope you’ll take a look below and identify a specific way you can get involved in building a culture of health for Oregon schoolchildren in all of our communities.

If you’re a family with a student, a caregiver, or you live in a community with a school:

  • Get involved with your district or school wellness council.
  • Advocate for strong wellness policies.
  • Spread the word about the importance of healthy schools to other parents/caregivers and throughout your community.
  • Download the Oregon Healthy Schools brochure or contact Oregon Healthy Schools, a partnership of the Oregon Department of Education Child Nutrition Programs and the Oregon Health Authority/Public Health Division, to find out more ways to get involved.

If you’re an organization that already works on wellness or health efforts for students and schools:

  • Check your school website for a copy of your School District Wellness Policy or ask the school’s principal for a copy. Review it to find places where it aligns or intersects with your programs.
  • Join or assist with a wellness committee at the school or district level.
  • Share grant funding or services that help the school or district meet its
    wellness goals.

If you are a school employee:

  • Form or join a wellness committee dedicated to employee health.
  • Support your coworkers by bringing healthy options to staff meetings and taking walking meetings or breaks together.
  • Plan and participate in health promoting worksite wellness activities.


Curious about a chronic disease topic you’d like to see covered here? Interested in writing a guest blog? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below. 

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