Children spend roughly half of their waking hours at school from the ages of 5 to 18. Because of this, schools are in a unique position to influence health. School-based interventions can help students, parents, teachers and administrators prevent heart disease and stroke by providing programs, policies and environments that support healthy lifestyles. Schools are also useful resources for increasing education and resources in the broader community (e.g., educating parents, providing a place for heart disease and stoke education or screening for community members). School-based interventions must be certain to provide adequate resources and support to teachers, administrators and staff.
School-based interventions are most effective when linked to interventions in other settings:
- Community-based settings (e.g., educate school staff on recommendations for nutrition and physical education, coordinate community programs to support or reinforce what has been learned in school)
- Worksite-based settings (e.g., develop flexible work leave policies that make parent participation in school activities an option for employees)
- Faith-based settings (e.g., allow faith-based organizations to use school facilities and equipment to host events that encourage members to prevent heart disease and stroke.)
- Health care facility-based settings (e.g., encourage school nurses to work with other health care providers to increase the information and education on heart disease and stroke available to school staff as well as the families of students)
- Home-based settings (e.g., encourage parents to provide balanced nutritional meals, opportunities for physical activity, and restrictions on tobacco use)
Previous work in school-based settings has found:
- Many schools communicate regularly with students, teachers and parents (e.g., parent newsletters, Channel One programming, student newspapers, daily announcements). These communications can be used to disseminate heart disease and stroke prevention information to the student body, staff and parents.
- Schools may be well-suited for heart disease education programs because they assess and store information on individuals (e.g., students, employees) and communication systems for these individuals are already in place. These settings make it easy to distribute individually tailored information to participants.
- Heart disease and stroke education interventions implemented in schools have the capacity to reach populations that might not otherwise have access to clinical services (e.g., children without health insurance).
- Children in schools represent a captive audience that is eager to learn new ideas. Providing heart disease education in schools during the developmental years will reach students when they are beginning to make their own lifestyle choices.
- Intervention success and ownership are maintained when schools develop their own implementation plan, work out their own solutions to problems and have broad involvement among teachers and other staff.
- Since more than 24 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program, the school environment offers an ideal opportunity to modify nutrition behaviors and promote healthful eating patterns, especially among low-income children who eat the majority of their meals at school.
- Heart disease and stroke interventions in schools benefit when classroom-based education is supported by policies and environments that encourage healthy eating, active living and tobacco abstinence.
- School-based interventions can be challenging to implement because teachers often lack time during class hours.
- Implementing heart disease and stroke interventions in multiple schools and districts can be difficult because states and cities often have different regulations regarding nutrition, physical activity and tobacco.
- Teachers, staff and administrators are in a unique position to influence young children as positive role models.
- Schools are ideal settings for implementing nutrition and physical activity policy changes (e.g., meal preparation and purchasing, required physical activity).
- Incorporating intense teacher training in school-based interventions can help teachers overcome concerns about their knowledge and ability to deliver intervention components.
- Parental understanding, involvement and support are an important asset in school-based interventions. It is important to involve parents in meaningful and practical ways (e.g., newsletters, curriculum input, volunteer opportunities, education sessions).
- Administrative support is key to faculty and staff interest and motivation. The leaders of the school must have support from the superintendent. Time and resources must be allocated to the intervention. The principal must be visibly involved and supportive of heart disease and stroke interventions.
Heart disease and stroke education programs in schools have the potential to influence other family members.
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