It is not an exaggeration to say that as a society, we are failing to keep our children healthy. Parents and caregivers do their best but the systems that support children’s health are poorly designed and under-resourced. School health education programs are being slashed, mental health needs are growing, the obesity epidemic is not improving, and pediatric vaccination levels are at a 30-year low.
What is happening in policy decisions on the national level is glaringly evident in our own communities.
As the president and CEO of Family First Health, I’m acutely aware of these needs. In York, where Family First Health is based, about 18 percent of children in grades K-12 are considered obese. The CDC says that number jumps to 26.2 percent for Hispanic and 24.8 percent for Black children, so it is a social justice and equity issue as well as a public health issue.
Obesity in children increases the risk for physical health issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, and asthma, while mentally it is associated with anxiety and depression. We can address these health risks and support our children if we, as a community, work in new and different ways with children and their families.
By providing early, hands-on education for students to make decisions that will positively impact their health, today and in the future, we can change the course at an individual and community level. Now is the time to act.
The last week in April marked Every Kid Health Week, which spotlighted the actions schools and families are taking to improve the health and wellness of their kids. Family First Health works with many school districts and specifically with the students and families of the School District of the City of York to improve the health of our children through our school-based health center at Hannah Penn K-8.
Our school-based health center team provides healthcare and health resources via our health center on the school campus, allowing students to receive medical attention from medical staff during the school day. We also have a health coach located in the school who educates students about smart eating habits, exercise, hygiene, and other health-related topics such as mental health, puberty, and sexual health and is responsive to the unique needs of the students in the school we serve.
Recently, the School District of the City of York identified an increase in vaping. Family First Health was there to step in and coordinate presentations on the risks of vaping along with alternatives for managing stress. When the school identifies a need, we are there to support them and offer our services and resources.
“The partnerships with FFH and other health agencies have provided key resources that allow trained professionals to speak to our students about health-related issues. It is an opportunity that many times parents and families miss due to a variety of barriers. The partnerships help to stop the cycle of misinformation as they are hearing information from trusted adults who are professionals in the building,” said Dr. George Fitch, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services for the School District of the City of York.
Our Hannah Penn Center is York County’s only school-based health center. The medical services include medical, dental, behavioral health, and community health programs. These are also open to the public – so a mom, making an appointment for her child, can be cared for at the same location.
While it’s great to discuss the benefits of these in-school health centers on student well-being, the numbers speak for themselves. In one study, just low to moderate use of school-based health centers by students related to approximately a 33 percent lower likelihood of them dropping out of school.
At a time when parents and policymakers are looking to make schools safer spaces for students, providing them with accessible resources for healthy living is one of the easiest ways to help them.
Jenny Englerth is the president and CEO of Family First Health.