Perhaps the first inspiration for the formation of WholeHealthED was the projection made six or seven years ago by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) for adult chronic illnesses that looked like this:
Today TFAH and its partners issued their 2018 survey of the prevalence of obesity in all the states and so of the country as a whole. The move from 36% to 50% is still at full and demoralizing speed. The report title:
“U.S. Obesity Rates Reach Historic Highs – Racial, Ethnic, Gender and Geographic Discrepancies Continue to Persist”
“Obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States – and has been for decades. Currently, about one in three Americans of all ages – or more than 100 million people – have obesity.”
The 2018 Snapshot
The question I asked myself the first time I came across the 2012 version of this map and those dismal projections for adult chronic illness — “Whose job is it to see that this doesn’t happen?” — clearly has become even more urgent by the year. The report lists a set of recommendations that include a couple that have some resonance for whole health conditions in schools: an excise tax for sugary drinks, the proceeds for which would “address health and socioeconomic disparities;” plus more emphasis on nutrition and exercise.
Here is a disconcerting recommendation:
“Ensure that CDC has enough funding to grant every state appropriate funding to implement evidence-based obesity prevention strategies (currently, CDC only has enough funding to work with 16 states” — emphasis mine. Perhaps this is a measure of how the opioid/addiction epidemic has plundered public coffers?)
Which path to take?
There is no mention yet of course of the potential for educating young people themselves with knowledge and experiential learning that has some prospect of keeping them off the paths to adult chronic illness once they depart secondary school and ultimately reach their 40s and 50s. This is primarily because obesity and its consequent healths issue are rightly seen as matter for the healthcare system to mitigate and redress. In too many neighborhoods after all, kids bring poor health conditions to schools with them: the effects of trauma and ACEs, poor nutrition, poor social support, sleep deprivation.
So the healthcare system’s response to this epidemic is naturally based on interventions. The WholeHealthED view of course is based on a fundamentally different proposition:
Mitigating the obesity problem is not a healthcare task. It is a learning task.
Everyone who agrees with this: Raise your hand.
So we (America) already have the world’s greatest learning infrastructure in place — battered and bruised though it may be. It also already has on a multitude of campuses in this infrastructure, the variety of wellness programs that we think belong inside the core of K-12 education, tied together in academic and experiential learning programs that also support the objectives for social and emotional learning. This unified learning experience is expressed at the moment in our Wellness Studies Program. The early sample-size is small but gratifying. It presents, we hope, an alternative path to the one that today’s high school graduates are stepping onto each June. Let’s end this right now.
Can there actually be delight in the whole health learning experience? Let’s find out.