Talking Points for Partners
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has launched the Team California for Healthy Kids campaign. This campaign focuses on making healthy foods and beverages and physical activity accessible throughout the day, every day. Superintendent Torlakson is inviting schools, before and after school agencies, early childhood programs, families, and communities to join the campaign. We want healthy choices to be the easy choices.
Health Supports and Improves Academic Achievement and Attendance
Healthy Students Learn Better
- Academic success is strongly linked to health.
- Health-related factors such as hunger, physical and emotional abuse, and chronic illness can lead to poor school performance.
- Healthier students are more likely to graduate from high school on time and attend college or post-secondary education.
- Active and fit students have better standardized test scores and grades.
- A student who arrives at school fed, rested, calm, and unworried is ready to learn.
- Students who drink fewer sodas get better grades.
- Students who regularly eat school breakfast have better test scores.
Healthy Students Have Better Attendance
- Active and well-nourished children/youth are more likely to show up for class, stay in school, and are ready to learn.
- Health-risk behaviors such as substance use, violence, and physical inactivity are consistently linked to academic failure and affects students’ school attendance, grades, test scores, and ability to pay attention.
- Food-insufficient children are more likely to receive lower math scores, repeat a grade, visit a psychologist, and have difficulty getting along with other children.
- Children in early primary grades (kindergarten through third grade) who were absent 20 or more days did poorly in school, were truant in middle school, more likely to drop out, and have problems with delinquency and substance abuse.
- Each additional day that low-income urban youth were absent from elementary school was associated with a 7 percent lower probability of graduating from high school.
- Truancy is a 97 percent predictor of first time drug use and the greater the number of truant days, the greater the use.
- Overweight students miss more days of school.
School Health Reduces Health Disparities
Disparities in health can compound already existing disparities in school achievement. Programs that work to reduce health risks that can narrow the academic gap include:
- Schools communicating the importance of regular attendance in the early grades and holding families accountable for extended absences
- Maintaining a sustained focus on attendance over time
- Providing a safe and engaging learning environment for children
- Involving parents in their children’s education
- Schools and communities providing support services to families with serious challenges such as domestic abuse, mental health problems, and drug addiction
- Taking a comprehensive approach involving students, families, and community agencies
- Providing quality after school programs.
Healthy Foods and Beverages Support Learning and Health
Importance of Nutrition
- Child nutrition programs are a key support for the health and academic achievement of California’s children.
- Each day in California:
- more than 5 million nutritious meals are served, providing up to half of the nutrients that students need;
- over 3 million students eat lunch at school;
- 1.2 million students eat school breakfast;
- 350,000 children eat meals in child care programs;
- 350,000 children and youths have a snack through after school programs.
- Students who regularly eat school breakfast miss fewer days of school.
- Student health and nutrition are vital to academic success.
- Rigorous research has shown that when students have good nutrition, they are more likely to attend school and be ready to learn.
Importance of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
One of the goals of the campaign is to increase access to fresh foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, by expanding the number of salad bars in schools, fresh fruits and vegetables in meals, and snacks in early childhood and after school programs.
- Research supports the fact that salad bars effectively help students increase the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat.
- When children are given a variety of appealing fruit and vegetable choices, they try new items they might never have considered tasting before.
- Children expand the variety of fruits and vegetables in their diet, both at school and at home.
- They eat more fruits and vegetables and less unhealthy foods.
- Edible gardens provide access to fresh foods, increase food literacy, and improve food choices.
- Gardens help children of all ages better understand the environment and nature.
- Using garden produce for meal times and salad bars builds pride and teamwork among children.
- Research has also shown us that children begin developing healthy habits at a young age, which points to the importance of a healthy nutrition environment for children in early childhood programs. Preschool children can:
- Enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks
- Grow fruits and vegetables and then enjoy eating produce from on-site gardens
- Visit to local farms and farmer’s markets
These types of activities help young children shape their future food preferences and health behaviors.
Importance of Water
- Drinking fresh water throughout the day is important to the health and academic success of children.
- Drinking water to quench thirst, instead of sugary beverages and juice helps in our fight against childhood obesity.
- Dehydration is a potential concern for children, regardless of climate.
- In order for kids to drink more water, two things must happen:
- they must have access to free, fresh drinking water
- the water must be appealing to kids so they will consume it
- New state and federal laws require access to free, fresh drinking water during meal times in schools and early childhood programs.
- There are many strategies available that can help increase children’s intake of water, such as water coolers, pitchers, and water stations.
Physical Activity Improves Learning and Health
"Move to Learn!"
Research demonstrates that:
- Classroom physical activity breaks improve attention and behavior; breaks without physical activity do not.
- Moderate to high levels of physical activity in physical education classes tend to improve academic achievement.
- Structured group exercise breaks for students and school staff have been shown to improve on-task time, academic test scores, absenteeism, and disciplinary referrals.
Studies also document that physical activity:
- Reduces childhood obesity and related risks including adult obesity, morbidity and mortality, and long-term social and economic discrimination
- Reduces health risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, elevated blood cholesterol, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer
- Improves emotional health and well being
- Increases self confidence and self awareness
A Coordinated and Comprehensive Approach is Important
The local school wellness policy and wellness committee are key to improving the health environment and programs in schools.
An effective wellness committee includes many partners, such as local health agencies and professionals, community-based organizations, families, youths, business and community leaders, and elected officials.
Comprehensive interventions in the school setting address three key areas:
- Health-promoting policies, procedures, and environments
- Health-promoting curriculum, instruction, and training
- Supportive health services
- California Education Supports Project, WestEd, Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco. March 2011. The Critical Connection Between Student Health and Academic Achievement – How Schools And Policymakers Can Achieve A Positive Impact (PDF; 2MB)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Student Health and Academic Achievement (accessed on September 20, 2011)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2010. Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance (PDF; 2MB) (accessed on September 20, 2011)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nutrition Facts (accessed on September 20, 2011)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity. Executive Summary (PDF; 6MB) (accessed on September 20, 2011)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 16, 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (PDF), Recommendations and Reports 2011;60(5), , accessed on September 20, 2011,
- Beyond the Health Room, Dunkel MC, Nash MA. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers, Resource Center on Educational Equity; 1991
- Dewey JD. Reviewing the relationship between school factors and substance use for elementary, middle, and high school students. Journal of Primary Prevention 1999: 19(3):1777-225.
- Healthy Kids Resource Center, What is the Relationship of Student Health to Academic Achievement? (Date unknown)
- National Cancer Insitute. Fact Sheet – Physical Activity and Cancer (accessed on September 20, 2011)
- Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, Summer 2009. Active Education Research Physical Education, Physical Activity and Academic Performance, (accessed on September 20, 2011)
- The relationship between health of school-age children and learning implications for schools. Swingle CA., Lansing, MI; Michigan Department of School Health; 1997