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.
- Regular physical activity and good nutrition (at home, but also in the breakfast and lunch served at school) are associated with higher grades and test scores.
- For many kids, the food served in school is the only food they receive in a day.
- Students who eat school breakfast have been shown to attend more days of school per year and score higher on tests.
- Moving their bodies helps students concentrate, pay attention and improves kids’ behavior in class.
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.
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.