School-based health programmes reduce health risks for children

Child care professionals say that schools play an important role in helping children to learn about their health, and develop their motivation make healthy choices. Schools in London can join the ‘Healthy Schools London’ Programme, which has been designed to create healthy promoting school environments. 

The evidence suggests that healthier children achieve better at school and educational attainment in childhood is linked to better health in adulthood and increased life expectancy.

‘Healthy Schools London’ programme

The concern over childhood obesity, poor child health and widening inequalities were the reasons behind the introduction of the ‘Healthy Schools London’ programme. The programme is sponsored by the Mayor of London and is being delivered by a small team in the Greater London Authority, the regional government body of which he is head.

“Supporting children’s health and wellbeing is nothing new to London’s schools. With the support of the boroughs’ education departments,the programme will therefore help schools to refresh, revive and re-establish the healthy environments they worked hard to develop in recent years,” said Liz Prosser, Healthy Schools Manager, Healthy Schools London, Greater London Authority.

There is emerging evidence of how school-based health promotion improves learning and educational outcomes.  However, recent educational reforms in England implemented in response to the recession and with the aim of promoting future economic competitiveness are increasingly focused on test performance at the expense of wider child health and social development.  

“37.4% of ten and eleven year-olds in London are overweight or obese; over a quarter of children live in poverty; and over 40% are eligible for free school meals (a UK indicator of low income families).  London also has a higher proportion of underweight children than the national average. A government survey found 95% of teachers had experienced a child arriving at school hungry,” added Prosser.  

Healthy Schools London awards 

The schools use a ‘whole school approach’ to health improvement which brings together pupils, staff, the curriculum, environment and culture of the school to produce partnerships, policies, and programmes of activity to improve health and wellbeing.

The programme supports schools to achieve 3 levels of school award:

– Bronze: School must complete a HSL review and achieve minimum requirements across four health and wellbeing themes using a whole school approach.

 Silver: Schools must undertake a needs analysis to identify targeted and universal actions to improve pupil health and wellbeing. They must also include plans for evaluating and monitoring their actions.

– Gold: Schools need to show the impact of the changes they have made as a result of the actions plans produced as part of their Silver Award.  They must also demonstrate how they have engaged the wider community and supported others to improve child health and wellbeing.    

“To today’s date, 45% of London Schools are registered for the programme and 18% have achieved a bronze award, 2.2% silver and 1% gold.  The London programme has also stimulated borough investment with a 73% increase in local borough support for pupil health and wellbeing,” said Kirsten Watters, public health specialist, Greater London Authority. 

Waters concluded,”Having a city-wide programme championed by the Mayor has stimulated local boroughs to invest in school-based health promotion during a time of economic austerity and public health budget cuts. HSL is an effective programme to improve child health and wellbeing and promote learning and attainment, which in turn supports health throughout adulthood.” 

Photo Credit: Photo by Bread for the World ( )

Author: Marketa Vesela

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