How is education related to health?
The link between education and health begins early and extends throughout our lives.
Research confirms what educators have long known: students who are healthy, present, engaged and supported learn better.1
We also know that those with more education live longer, healthier lives than those with less. Their children are more likely to thrive. They have a greater sense of control over their lives.
The relationship between health and education is reciprocal. Achievement gaps in education and disparate health outcomes look similar. Students of color and students from economically disadvantaged homes are more likely to have negative health outcomes and lower academic achievement.
Employers, educators, and other community leaders can partner to create opportunities for youth. Working together, changemakers can prepare the individuals and families of today and tomorrow to live long, healthy lives.
Place the child at the center
It is time to truly align the sectors and place the child at the center. Both public health and education serve the same students, often in the same settings. We must do more to work together and collaborate.
What can educators do to build healthy communities?
Education shapes health in a number of ways, including:
- Employment opportunities and related benefits (e.g., income, health insurance, etc.)
- Health knowledge, literacy, coping, and problem-solving skills
- Social and psychological factors (e.g., self-efficacy, social supports)3
Use data to drive action
Educators rely on data to better understand the needs of their students and to improve what’s happening in their classrooms, schools, and districts. Data can help identify needed resources and assess impact on student achievement.
When schools align their data with community data, they can begin to paint a picture of the impact of education on health outcomes. By identifying neighborhoods with both education and health challenges, educators can identify new partners from public health, health care, and other sectors willing to work together on behalf of their students.
But student data comes with real privacy concerns.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) establishes certain parental rights and sets rules for sharing student data. The Data-Sharing Tool Kit for Communities from the U.S. Department of Education provides schools and partner organizations with tools for responsible data-sharing to boost student achievement while respecting privacy.
Use policies and programs
School administrators and board members are key decision-makers for policies and programs that impact youth and adult learners, including several strategies listed in What Works for Health.
Specifically, changemakers are working on a variety of approaches across the lifespan to address educational attainment:
- Increase early childhood education
- Create environments that support learning
- Improve quality of K-12 education
- Increase high school graduation rates
- Provide Parent education programs
- Increase education beyond high school
Educators can also leverage existing policies and programs to improve the health and well-being of students.
Engage with others
Schools are one of the most efficient systems for reaching children and youth. Approximately 95% of all U.S. children attend school.2 There is no shortage of national, state, and local groups organizing efforts to ensure healthy school environments and provide health services to students. (Not sure where to start? See some examples below.)
Employees. Education institutions are often major employers in a community. They set internal policies that impact the health of the people they employ. For example, as employers, these organizations can help ensure:
- All of their employees earn a living wage.
- Employees have access to comprehensive benefits, including quality health care.
- The work environment supports healthy choices.
Learn more about what employers can do to impact the health of their workforce in What Works for Health.
Institutional practices. Academic institutions can shape their institutional business practices to benefit the community. This can include examining things like:
- Where they purchase goods and services
- Where they locate new buildings
- Hiring and workforce development practices
County Health Rankings in the Classroom
Educators can incorporate County Health Rankings & Roadmaps content in their curriculum by:
- Using the County Health Rankings data as a learning tool. Engage students in a discussion about what the data means. How does the data compare with their experience? What surprises them?
- Use the Rankings model as a starting point for discussion across a variety of subject areas such as math, science, social studies, and history. Our discussion guide for the County Health Rankings model provides some thought-provoking questions than can spark discussion around the model and what it means for your community.
How can you connect with educators?
Do your research
Get specific. Identify which level or levels of education you’re interested in connecting with.
Understand the rules. Take time to learn how decisions are made and by whom so you can tailor your ask to the key players.
- Parents for Healthy Kids has put together a helpful primer on how schools work. It lays out the key players in your school and district and offers some tips for success.
- The Decision-Maker Analysis tool (from Working Partnerships USA & Community Catalyst) helps you identify who can give you what you want, what their “rules” are, which specific individuals are key decision-makers and how you may influence them. It walks you through the types of questions you’ll want to answer about individual decision-makers.
Look for common ground and common language.
Early childhood. It may be helpful to connect with a member organization that supports early care and education providers at the state or regional level.
School-aged. Look to your local school districts.
- Check out their websites for information on school- or district-level wellness policies.
- There is no shortage of national, state, and local groups organizing efforts to ensure healthy school environments and provide health services to students. Consider first working with existing groups or coalitions that are already connected with schools in your area.
Postsecondary. Consider reaching out to local or state-wide postsecondary institutions. This could be a community college, technical school, or university.
- Community colleges and technical schools play an important role in workforce development. They often partner with business to ensure that workforce training needs are met.
- Universities, as anchor institutions in states and communities, offer partnership opportunities around evaluation, internship placements, and community-based participatory research.
Not sure where to start?
State & National
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a network of state-level affiliates that provide resources and professional development to their local members.
- National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) serves state boards of education. State Boards, operating as a lay body over state education, are intended to serve as an unbiased broker for education decision making. Board of Education structure varies from state to state. NASBE’s State-by-State Education Governance Matrix provides an overview of each state’s structure.
- National PTA can help you find and connect with your local PTA.
- National School Boards Association has a network of state-level associations that support school board members in their work. They help with policy writing, legal matters, insurance, superintendent searches, and other issues. They also track state legislation and advocate for school boards, local governance, and public schools to state legislatures.
Health in Schools
Several national organizations and networks are working to address health in schools.
- Action for Healthy Kids works to mobilize school professionals, families, and communities to take actions that lead to healthy eating, physical activity, and healthier schools where kids thrive.
- Alliance for a Healthier Generation works with schools, companies, community organizations, health care professionals, and families to transform the conditions and systems that lead to healthier kids.
- Parents for Healthy Kids is a national initiative created for parents, by parents, offering resources to help parents and caregivers become effective change agents in school and student health.
- School-Based Health Alliance advocates for school-based health care. Check out their network of state affiliates.
What’s in it for them?
Improved academic outcomes. “Are the children learning?” This question sits at the heart of nearly everything educators do on a daily basis. As you approach education professionals, be prepared to demonstrate the benefit to learning.
Help. Educators face many demands. Resources are often limited and time is among the commodities most difficult to come by. Consider what you can offer to lighten the load.
- Lawrence J, Thorne E. A Systems Approach to Integrating Health in Education. Cairn Guidance, Inc.; 2016. https://cairnguidance.com/wp-content/uploads/RWJF_SystemsApproach.pdf. Accessed July 5, 2023.
- Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child: A Collaborative Approach to Learning and Health. Alexandria, VA: ASCD and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2014. www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/siteASCD/publications/wholechild/wscc-a-collaborative-approach.pdf. Accessed August 24, 2017.
- Dubowitz T, Orleans T, Nelson C, May LW, Sloan JC, Chandra A. Creating Healthier, More Equitable Communities By Improving Governance And Policy. Health Aff (Millwood). 2016;35(11):1970-1975. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2016.0608.
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