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The Need

Children living in low income communities suffer disproportionately from a wide range of health problems.

  • Children from low-income communities are at substantially higher risk for chronic diseases, as well as for other physical ailments including acute illness and impaired growth. Nationwide, an estimated 50 percent of students from low income communities have a chronic health condition like obesity or asthma, or a behavioral or learning problem.

Children’s health and their educational performance are highly interconnected.

  • The World Health Organization stresses that one of the most effective ways to help youth reach their full academic potential is to reduce health disparities. While there has been significant focus on closing the gap in academic achievement between American schoolchildren from more affluent and those from less affluent communities, not enough attention has been paid to health disparities as strong contributors to differences in school performance.

The Current Model of School Health Misses a Critical Opportunity.

  • Research by Sara Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H, and colleagues in the Johns Hopkins Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has shown that, for some children, the stress of poverty and trauma may elicit biological changes that directly affect the way children’s brains and immune systems develop, and how their bodies respond to stress. These changes can increase their risk for chronic diseases, undermine their cognitive development, and reduce their ability to self-manage their health and emotions. Further, healthy behaviors learned in childhood, such as proper nutrition and regular exercise, set the stage for children’s future mental and physical health, predisposing them to good health in adulthood. Thus, carefully-designed school health programs that are fully integrated into the academic program and school environment have the opportunity to exert a major and lasting impact.
The Rales Center