Health Education Standards: Setting an Educational Framework for Ohio’s Children to Lead Healthy Lives
By Katherine Ungar, JD, Policy Associate
Today, on December 8, 2020, Senate Bill 121 (SB 121) will have its 6th hearing in the Senate Education Committee. In short, the bill authorizes the State Board of Education to adopt statewide health education standards for grades kindergarten through twelve. Local Boards of Education then have the choice to utilize the health education standards or not. In other words, no local board of education would be required to adopt those standards. The bill has bi-partisan support, sponsored by Senator Vernon Sykes and Senator Stephanie Kunze with several cosponsors, including, among others, Senator Peggy Lehner, Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Ohio is the only state in the Country without health education standards
Ohio is the only state in the country that does not have health education standards and health education is the only subject area that does not have standards. Health risks such as poor dietary choices, inadequate physical activity, physical and emotional abuse, and substance abuse have a significant impact on how well students perform in school.
One Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
The first step in improving our health outcomes is to learn more about how to maintain our health and being informed to make personal decisions about our health. SB 121 is about making it a priority to teach our children how to be healthy, how to make healthy decisions, and how to cope and be resilient in the face of adversity. SB 121 is about prevention, establishing a foundation for our children to flourish and practice health and mental health.
Health education standards would provide a framework to teach and allow students to practice health-enhancing behaviors and avoid health risks. While the bill does not prescribe what the standards must be, if the State chooses to consider the national standards or those created by OAPHERD, the topics will include many of which the General Assembly has expressed interest or is currently considering such as teen violence, bullying, substance abuse prevention, coping skills, nutrition, physical activity, and positive youth development.
In our state, there is a 30 year life expectancy gap that exists based on where you are born and live. Education is a critical piece of this puzzle to eliminate this trend. Health risks such as poor dietary choices, inadequate physical activity, physical and emotional abuse, and substance abuse have a significant impact on how well students perform in school.
According to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio’s 2019 Health Value Dashboard, Ohio ranks 46th in the nation in health value and as you know from health disparity data and testimony- too many Ohioans have been left behind. Prevention strategies play a role in addressing the “U.S. healthcare system’s twin problems of high costs and poor outcomes.” Many causes of illness, disability and death are preventable, and researchers find that improvements in health knowledge and behaviors, such as physical inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption, would go a long way in improving health outcomes.
The Ohio Department of Health, 2016 Early Childhood Data Brief demonstrates the significant impact of childhood excess weight on not only our children’s health, but also our economy. More than one-third of Head Start students were classified as overweight or obese. Childhood obesity remains a source of significant and persistent disparities, especially among Black, Native American and Latinx populations. It is important to note that making healthy food choices requires access to healthy food, which is a separate and related issue as there are many food desserts dotting our urban and rural areas of the state.
As we consider the current public health crisis, the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown individuals, it is critical that Ohio do everything it can to address and dismantle health disparities. According to a report, the State of Childhood Obesity, obesity is a risk factor for chronic illnesses such as diabetes. In 2010, over 1 million Ohioans had diabetes and based on our current rates of obesity the project cases are expected to increase by over 50% in the next decade (to over 1.5M). It is critically important to teach and guide our children about how to make healthy and safe decisions.
Economically, educating Ohioans about health choices makes sense. According to the Ohio Department of Health’s Early Childhood Overweight and Obesity Report from 2016, the economic toll that chronic disease due to overweight and obesity presents to our state is notable. More than $2.9 billion are spent in additional health costs for overweight and obese children in the U.S., compared with children who maintain a healthy weight. Preventable chronic diseases and related risk factors are estimated to cost Ohio around $60 billion annually in healthcare costs and lost productivity. Without significant change, these costs are projected to increase by nearly $100 billion by 2023.
Earlier this month Governor DeWine acknowledged “we should all be outraged that in the year 2020, in Ohio and in this country, there’s still inequality on opportunity and there is still racism. The coronavirus, this global pandemic, has laid bare our vulnerabilities.” Governor DeWine continued to cite a number of different areas where health disparities exist, including, among others, the drug epidemic and mental health services, two categories which could be taught within the health education framework. HPIO notes that “improving health value in Ohio means closing Ohio’s troubling health gaps and ensuring that all Ohioans have the opportunity to live to their full health potential.” Health education standards are a step in this direction.
Support healthy children and let’s join every other state in the country with health education standards. SB 121 does not impose requirements upon districts, but simply equips them with the necessary tools to effectively instruct children on these important topics. Healthy habits lead to flourishing lives. We must value teaching our children how to thrive, it is a moral imperative. Health education standards demonstrate to Ohio’s children that we value their growth, both physically and mentally. Read full testimony here.