Nutrition and Scholl Performance

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Evidence is clear that healthy eating and active living make a difference in academic performance.  Unfortunately, our young people are too often caught in the poor nutrition and inactive lifestyle mode that is fueling our obesity epidemic.  Schools are beginning to understand that improving the classroom is not enough — there are important steps to take to get kids ready to learn.  But funding is scarce, and Seattle Schools is hard-pressed even to keep the classroom work going. Fortunately, Seattle has a Families and Education Levy, whose goal is to provide the extra support that is required to make learning happen.  Student health services have been part of the levy since the beginning, but their mission has evolved from treating common adolescent health/mental health issues to promoting health.  As part of this work, the school-based health center (SBHC) program has launched an adolescent obesity prevention initiative.  The goal is to change social norms and behavior to promote healthy eating and active lifestyle. The initiative works through three specific strategies:
  1. Direct patient care.  The 5000 students who receive care each school year are now being counseled and trained in good nutrition and activity when they come to the clinic.  Providers are being trained to motivate them.  The core message:  7-5-2-1-0 (breakfast 7 days a week, 5 servings of fruit/vegetables per day, less than 2 hours of screen time and at least 1 hour of physical activity per day, 0 sugar sweetened beverages).
  2. Population-based strategies.  This includes social marketing through social networks, publications, and organizations, addressing environmental barriers at schools, coordinating with physical education and health teachers, partnering with Seattle Parks, marketing fruit and vegetables in cafeterias, and creating student led wellness councils
  3. System change.  This involves partnering with Public Health and other agencies to improve school meals and physical education, as well as using the resources of other agencies and organizations that have contact with youth to create new strategies to involve and influence their habits.
The more we understand about how our youth learn and the barriers and opportunities to successful academic performance, the clearer it becomes that providing a community network that addresses the whole person is critical to ensuring that every child succeeds.  The new obesity prevention initiative is an example of the way in which we can put tested research and proven strategies to work in new and creative ways in order to reach this goal.