Mijares: Healthy students are better learners — and more likely to become healthy adults

Educators across the country are increasingly focusing on the health of students, and for good reason.

Along with our commitment to the overall well-being of young people, there is clear scientific evidence linking student health to academic achievement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, risky behaviors — including early sexual activity, violence and substance use — consistently correlate with poor grades and lower educational attainment.

In short, healthy kids make better students, and better students are more likely to become healthy, successful adults.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresThis principle has been central to the advancement of health education, which over the last two decades has evolved to become much more comprehensive and evidence-based. California has been a major driver of this effort, developing Health Education Content Standards in 2008 and, more recently, adopting the Health Education Framework to help educators teach these standards.

Before we go further, it’s probably worth taking a moment to revisit California’s health education standards.

Available online, they essentially describe health concepts and skills that students should possess in six content areas: nutrition and physical activity; growth, development and sexual health; injury prevention and safety; alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; mental, emotional and social health; and personal and community health.

Naturally, the standards vary greatly by grade level. For example, they say first-graders should be able to explain why sleep and rest are important for growth and good health. Students in grades seven and eight should be able to analyze the nutritional value of different foods and identify ways to increase daily physical activity. High schoolers should be able to demonstrate assertive communication skills to resist pressures to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

Grounded in scientific research, these standards encourage all students to make healthy choices and avoid high-risk behaviors. And now their implementation will be assisted by the “Health Education Framework for California Public Schools,” which was approved by the state Board of Education in May 2019 to provide instructional guidance for educators.

As with all frameworks, state funding has been allocated to create professional learning opportunities and resources, and the California Department of Education has appointed OCDE to facilitate the statewide committee that will develop these tools and trainings. This committee includes other county offices of education, universities, state health agencies and the California PTA.

Healthy students, healthy schools and healthy relationships should be the shared goal of educators, parents and policymakers across California, and the Health Education Framework marks an important step.

Far from extraneous to academics, the investments we make today in health education have a direct impact on student learning and will empower young people to make well-informed decisions, contributing to a lifetime of good health.