Unhealthy behaviors and chronic diseases are increasingly common in children and adolescents in the United States. About 1 in 4 adolescents has a chronic health condition, such as asthma, diabetes, or obesity. The percentage of children aged 6 to 11 who have obesity increased from 7% in 1976–1980 to 18% in 2015–2016. The percentage of adolescents aged 12 to 19 with obesity increased from 5% to 21% during the same period.
Children with unhealthy behaviors or chronic conditions may miss more school, which reduces their opportunities and time for learning. They may face lower academic achievement, increased disability, fewer job opportunities, and limited community interactions as they enter adulthood.
Establishing healthy behaviors during childhood is easier and more effective than trying to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood. Schools play a critical role in helping children develop lifelong healthy habits. Each day, 133,000 schools in the United States provide a setting for 57 million students to learn about health and healthy behaviors.
Working With Schools to Make Students Healthier
With $15.4 million in FY 2019 funding, CDC Healthy Schools works with states, school systems, communities, and national partners to prevent chronic diseases and promote the health and well-being of children and adolescents in schools. CDC’s framework for addressing health in schools is the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model. The WSCC model is student-centered and emphasizes the role of the community in supporting schools and the importance of evidence-based policies and practices.
Partnering with key leaders from the health and education fields, CDC Healthy Schools promotes:
CDC uses three surveillance systems to monitor health behaviors, practices, and policies in schools: the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, the School Health Policies and Practices Study, and the School Health Profiles. Data collected through these systems are used to identify effective strategies, develop and evaluate programs, and develop guidelines and tools to improve school health policies, programs, and curricula.
For example, data from the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that students with higher grades are more likely to engage in healthy dietary behaviors—such as eating vegetables one or more times a day or drinking milk instead of soft drinks—compared to students with lower grades. School officials and other decision makers can use this information to promote policies and practices that support healthy eating in schools.