Strong health programs in school promote life-long health
The research is unequivocal. Effective, evidence-based health education supports students in adopting healthy lifestyles from an early age, and provides them with the skills and competencies they need to make healthy decisions and engage in life-long health promoting behaviours.
The government of Ontario is asking for input on building “new age-appropriate health and physical education curriculum that includes subjects like mental health, sex-ed, and legalization of cannabis.”
Over the last five years – working with experts from across Canada, People for Education has been examining the most effective ways to promote young people’s health.
The research is unequivocal. Effective health education supports students in adopting healthy lifestyles from an early age, and provides them with the self-regulatory skills and competencies they need to make healthy decisions and engage in health promoting behaviours.
Teaching students the habits and skills that provide a foundation for health improves their chances for academic success, leads to increased productivity, improved life expectancy, and greater capacity to cope with life’s challenges. It can reduce the risk of both chronic disease and mental illness.
There is widespread professional and public concern about low rates of physical activity and high rates of obesity, depression and anxiety among young people. Along with that concern, there is a wide range of evidence about the positive role schools play in fostering physical and mental health.
Physical and mental health promotion are important from individual, social, and economic perspectives. Because of their centrality in the lives of children and youth, schools are widely regarded as the place for effective promotion and interventions in physical and mental health
Learning to manage risk and make healthy choices
Strong health curriculum must include a focus on life skills, such as stress and risk management, and include components designed to prevent tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse and to reduce other types of risky behaviours.
Sexual health must be addressed starting in elementary school and continuing throughout high school. The Public Health Agency of Canada has recommended defining sexual health in the same way the World Health Organization (WHO) does, which is “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality.”
…sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life that encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.
World Health Organization
According to the WHO, “for sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” Self-awareness is a central skill leading to the development of an evolving self-identity which is important to mental health. One’s sexual identity is a core aspect of self and as critical to good mental health as sexual health is to good physical health.
Schools and educators should be supported to teach students key health skills and competencies.
The health competencies that every student needs
People for Education – working with health experts – has defined a set of core competencies that should be embedded in health curriculum:
Capacity for making healthy choices
- Students develop a sense of personal responsibility for their own health and the choices they make.
- Students develop strong relationships with caring others (peers, teachers, parents, and community members).
- Students understand the importance of making healthy eating choices.
- Students understand the importance of impulse control and strategies that lead to them make healthy eating choices.
- Students learn to identify obstacles to making healthy eating choices and have problem-solving strategies to assist them in overcoming these obstacles.
- Students understand the importance of sleep, the factors that put their sleep at risk, and how to overcome these factors.
Personal safety and appropriate risk-taking
- Students can assess the risks associated with the health choices they make.
- Students are able to identify social risks and develop strategies to resist peer-pressure and respond effectively to risky situations.
- Students have a strong sense of self-esteem and confidence to resist outside pressures to engage in risky behaviour.
- Students mitigate potential risks and reduce unnecessary risky behaviour through the help of strong relationships with caring others (peers, teachers, parents, and community members).
- Students have a secure sexual identity and develop a healthy sense of self-esteem and self-worth in relation to their sexual identity.
- Students respect the sexual identities of others.
- Students understand the importance of intimate relationships that are caring, respectful and non-violent.
- Students understand the role of social media in sexual health and how to be respectful and responsible in that context.
- Students have the capacity to manage risks and make healthy decisions regarding their sexuality.
Understanding and management of mental illness
- Students understand mental health issues and the impact that stigmatization can have.
- Students can recognize emerging mental health issues in themselves and others.
- Students can identify their emotions and manage their emotions.
- Students are able and willing to seek help for mental health issues for themselves and others.
- Students are able to develop caring and supportive relationships with their peers, teachers, and family and community members.
- Students have productive coping, problem-solving and resilience skills to overcome stressful and challenging situations.
- Students have the movement and physical literacy skills needed to participate in and enjoy a range of activities.
- Students understand concepts such as body and spatial awareness, center of gravity, laws of motion and force.
- Students learn to self-reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement, set attainable and realistic goals, monitor and evaluate performance, and develop strategies to obtain goals and overcome obstacles.
- Students develop focus, concentration and perseverance skills and strategies.
- Students develop an appreciation for physical activities and personal fitness and understand the value of being physically active.