Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Utah Schools Encouraged to Improve Health Policies

(Salt Lake City, UT) – New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show Utah schools excel in many areas of school health, such as giving students tobacco cessation resources, but could do better in the areas of nutrition and asthma management. With more than 55 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools in the U.S., schools are in a unique position to help improve the health of their students.

The School Health Profiles report is given to principals and lead health education teachers in middle and high schools across the country every two years. The survey provides a snapshot of school health education and physical health education requirements, as well as policies related to HIV infection/AIDS, tobacco use, nutrition, asthma management, and family and community involvement in school health programs.

“Policies are effective and often less costly strategies that are used to create healthy school environments that allow faculty and students to make the healthy choice, the easy choice,” said Heather Borski, Director of the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Bureau of Health Promotion.

Tobacco-use prevention is a key focus area for many Utah schools. Survey results show 57.4% of Utah schools follow a policy that mandates a tobacco-free environment, which is identical to schools nationally. The Sevier School District implemented a tobacco policy in 1994 and has since updated it as new tobacco products have come into the market.

“Our district is tobacco-free 24 hours a day, 365 days year,” said Gary Kyhl, Safe and Drug Free Schools Director. “We felt it was important to pass a policy to protect our faculty and students from the health issues and addiction that tobacco causes. Policies such as this one help to keep our students safe.”  School administrators can learn how to create a tobacco-free policy at http://www.tobaccofreeutah.org/schoolguide.pdf.

The School Health Profiles also show:
   Utah schools required more students to participate in assistance, education, or cessation programs when caught smoking cigarettes (77.1%) than nationally (26.1%). The Ending Nicotine Dependence (END) class is available for youth through Utah’s 12 local health departments. The class is generally free of charge and gives youth the tools they need to quit tobacco.
   Utah schools (46.9%) were similar to national data (49.1%) for prohibiting advertisements and promotion of candy, fast food restaurants, or soft drinks in all locations.
   Utah schools sold more unhealthy foods and beverages outside school food service programs (e.g., vending machines, snack bars [91.7%]) than nationally (61.6%). Information about nutritional standards for foods in schools can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/nutrition/standards.htm.
   Utah schools exempted students from taking required physical education for certain reasons more often (56.5%) than nationally (34.6%). Unless directed by a child’s physician, students should not be exempt from taking and participating in physical education classes or activities.
   Utah schools had fewer asthma action plans on file for all students with asthma (49.8%) than nationally (58.5%). About 63,000 Utah children 17 years of age and under currently have asthma.
   Utah schools had fewer policies permitting students to carry and self-administer asthma medications (45.3%) than nationally (73.9%). Utah law allows children to carry their inhaler with them if the proper forms are filled out every year. These forms can be found at http://www.health.utah.gov/asthma/schools/resources.html.

For highlights of the 2010 Utah School Health Profiles data or to compare Utah results to the CDC national data, visit http://health.utah.gov/bhp/schoolhealth/. 

Media Contact:
Michael Friedrichs
Bureau of Health Promotion
(o) 801-538-6244