In response to this challenge, new child health initiatives are arising at the local, state, and national levels. Partnerships are emerging among parents, educators, health professionals, the private sector, and schools. For example, the Metropolitan Life Foundation, a private sector foundation supported by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, sponsors a national initiative called “Healthy Me” to promote comprehensive school health education. The initiative recognizes exemplary school health programs and community coalitions promoting school health, supports professional preparation partnerships between public schools and universities, promotes wellness programs for school faculty and staff, and provides educational materials concerning school health promotion.
In 1988, the Metropolitan Life Foundation funded a national survey to examine the opinions of parents, teachers, and 4,738 public school students in grades three-12 concerning comprehensive health education. The survey addressed effects of comprehensive health education, relevance of health education, parental involvement, emotional health, curricular emphases, safety issues, and AIDS prevention. The survey represents the increasing contribution of the private sector in addressing child health problems and needs. Also, the survey findings provide more useful information for planning and promoting comprehensive school health programs. Highlights drawn from findings of the survey include:
Effects of Comprehensive Health Education
Students with comprehensive health education have more knowledge, better health-related attitudes, and more positive behavior than students with little or no health education. About 8 million public school students across the country have little or no health education.
Forty-three percent of students with one year of health education have a drink sometimes or more often; that proportion decreases to 33% for students who have had health education for at least three years.
Twenty percent of students with one year of health education smoke a cigarette sometimes or more often, as opposed to 14% among those having had health education for at least three years.
Thirteen percent of students having received health education for one year have taken drugs a few times or more; only 6% of those with three or more years of health education have done so.
The proportion of those who have ridden with a driver who has been drinking decreases from 70% for students with one year of health education to 63% for students with at least three years of health education.
Relevance of Health Education
Thirty-two percent of students find health classes more interesting than other classes, and 45% say they are about the same as other classes.
Ninety-one percent of all students find health education classes useful.
Eighty-one percent of the “Healthy Me” school students and 74% of students who have had three years of health education report they have made changes to improve their health, compared to 62% of those who have not had health education.
Students who feel limited control over their own health tend to skip dinner more than students who report a lot of control over their own health (6% vs. 20%).
Eighty-one percent of students who feel a lot of control over their own health exercise or play outside of school three or more times a week; only 58% of those who feel little or no control do so.
Most parents endorse comprehensive health education; however, about half of parents do not know what is taught in health education.
Only 29% of parents say they have gotten involved in any way with their child’s school health education program.
Only 37% of teachers from the national sample say that parents give strong support to health education in their schools. However, in “Healthy Me” schools where health education seems to be highly successful, strong parental support rises sharply (63%).
Many parents do not know the extent of drinking, smoking, or drug-taking among students. They report all three behaviors to a much lesser degree than do students.
Though 36% of parents report that their child has had at least one alcoholic drink, 66% of students say that they have used alcohol at least once or twice.
Fourteen percent of parents report that their child has smoked a cigarette, compared to 41% of children who say that they have smoked a cigarette.
Five percent of parents say their child has used drugs, and 17% of students report that they have used drugs.
A significant minority of students, more than one in three, report they feel very unhappy at least once a week. When unhappy, most children are likely to talk to their friends (61%). The proportion who talk to their mother is 59% for elementary school students, 37% for junior high school students, and 36% for senior high school students. On average, more than one in four say they would talk to no one about a problem.
Thirty-five percent of students say they have not learned about personal feelings, and 24% of junior and senior high school students have not learned about stress. Most teachers (74%) feel a great deal of emphasis should be placed on the subject of personal feelings; 59% feel emphasis should be placed on the subject of stress.
In “Healthy Me” schools, 95% of teachers devote a lot of time to teaching about self-esteem; the percentage decreases to 85% of teachers in other schools.
Though peer pressure often is viewed negatively, in this survey 87% of students report that friends help them do what they should do. Only 52% do things they do not want to do because their friends are doing them.
Eighty-seven percent of students report they have learned about drinking, yet only 70% think it is important they do not drink alcohol. Eighty-nine percent of students have learned about smoking; a somewhat lower 79% consider it important not to smoke.
In ranking health topics of personal interest, 60% of students rank not being overweight very important; only 52% rank not drinking as very important.
Eighty-five percent of teachers recommend classroom emphasis on alcohol or drug abuse, though only 47% feel that not drinking alcohol is personally important to them.
Only 32% of students say they always follow traffic regulations when riding a bicycle. Only 4% say they wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.
Among students of legal drinking age, 48% have driven after having one drink. Among junior and senior high school students, 67% have ridden with a driver who has been drinking.
Only 34% of studens say they always wear a seatbelt in the front seat of an automobile.
Many students are misinformed about the risks of safe behaviors. Three of 10 students believe not sharing a bathroom with an AIDS patient reduces their risk of getting AIDS, and 13% think not being in a classroom with someone who has AIDS reduces the risk.
Students in “Healthy Me” schools are more apt to be correct in recognizing risk-reducing behaviors. Of students with no health education, 81% identify taking drugs with needles as a risk; 92% of “Healthy Me” school students recognize this as a risk.
In identifying risk-reducing behaviors and AIDS, parents’ knowledge is more like that of students with no health education.