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Why Schools?

Schools: The Right Place for a Healthy Start

African American female in classroom

Schools have direct contact with about 50 million students for at least 6 hours a day during the most critical years of their social, physical, and intellectual development. Research has shown that school health programs can reduce the prevalence of health risk behaviors among young people and have a positive effect on academic performance. Schools also play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of young people and helping them establish lifelong healthy behaviors.

It is easier and more effective to develop healthy behaviors during childhood than trying to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood. In addition, preventable health risk behaviors are often established during childhood or adolescence and continue into adulthood, contributing to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems:

  • Tobacco use.
  • Unhealthy eating.
  • Alcohol and other drug use.
  • Inadequate physical activity.
  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injury and violence.
  • Sexual behaviors that can result in HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and unintended pregnancy.

Quick Stats

  • About 50 million students in the United States attended public elementary and secondary schools in 2016.1
  • Of these, 15 million public school students were in grades 9 through 12.1
  • There were nearly 13,500 public school districts with close to 98,300 public schools in 2013-2014.1,2

During the transition from childhood to adulthood, adolescents establish patterns of behavior and make lifestyle choices that affect both their current and future health. Serious health and safety issues such as motor vehicle crashes, violence, substance use, and risky sexual behaviors can adversely affect adolescent and young adults.

Some adolescents also struggle to adopt behaviors that could decrease their risk of developing chronic diseases in adulthood, such as eating nutritiously, engaging in physical activity, and choosing not to use tobacco.

Environmental factors such as family, peer group, school, and community characteristics also contribute to adolescents’ health and risk behaviors.

Societal Influences on Adolescents and Young Adults

Young people’s behaviors are influenced at the individual, peer, family, school, community, and societal levels. Because many sectors of society contribute to adolescent health, safety, and well-being, a collaborative effort that engages multiple partners is necessary. Such joint efforts can also help to promote a more comprehensive approach to addressing adolescent health—one that views each adolescent as a whole person, recognizing and drawing upon his or her assets and not just focusing on risks.

To have the most positive impact on adolescent health, government agencies, community organizations, schools, and other community members must work together in a comprehensive approach. Providing safe and nurturing environments for our nation’s youth can help ensure that adolescents will be healthy and productive members of society.


  1. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educations Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics (2016). Fast Facts: Back to school statistics. Washington, D.C.
  2. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educations Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics (2016). The Condition of Education:  Elementary and Secondary Enrollment. Washington, D.C.