What Impact Does a Coordinated School Health Program Have on Health Behaviors in Rhode Island High School Students?

Dawn Britto, Rhode Island College


Society has become increasingly concerned with minimizing health-risk behaviors in young people grades K-12. These risky behaviors contribute to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality, which are often established during childhood and adolescence, extend into adttlthood, and are interrelated and preventable. School health programs can play a unique and important role in the lives of youth by helping improve their health- related knowledge, attitudes and skills through comprehensive coordinated school health education. A high-quality school health program is a coordinated and comprehensive set of courses, services, practices, and policies that meet the health and safety needs of students and school staff in kindergarten through grade 12.

The purpose of this project was to evaluate the impact of Coordinated School Health Program on health behaviors of Rhode Island high school students. This was accomplished by analyzing retrospective health surveillance data (in the areas of tobacco, alcohol use, unhealthy eating, and inadequate physical activity) from the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and 2008 InformationWorks!, and comparing it to Healthy People 2010 target measure percentiles. The percentage comparisons from each data source and topic area suggested if students at grade levels 9-12 had demonstrated • movement along the continuum to the prospective achievement of HP 2010 target measures.

Results from the RI 2009 YRBS and InformationWorks! survey indicated that many high school students did not demonstrate substantial movement toward target achievement (continue to engage in behaviors that place them at risk for the leading causes of morbidity and mortality). In analyzing the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey and 2008 InformationWorks!, tobacco use met HP 2010 target measures for all ages, and alcohol use met measure for youth under 13 years of age. Clearly, the range of unmet HP 2010 target measures (in alcohol use, unhealthy eating, and inadequate physical activity) may explain why coordinated health programs as envisioned by the model have not become a sustainable reality in many local communities. Research indicates that more effective school health programs and other policy and programmatic interventions are needed to reduce risk and improve health outcomes among youth.

Advanced Practice Nurses (APN) could: lead community driven efforts for multifaceted data compilation that are generated from diverse sources o f data, and useful in determining community health needs, and securing funding for resources (school materials, grass root programs, health clinics, etc...); help implement evidenced based health promotion activities that are geared toward achieving successful outcomes; provide continuing education units for professional development that is specific to health education, and primary prevention (recruit licensed/certified professionals to develop curriculum and teach health education to students); develop health education policies that identify national standardized health curriculum that is age appropriate, culturally relevant, and based on current health risk trends; and APN's should be recognized as experts in health education, scholars in evidenced based best practice, and utilize their expertise in all phases of curriculum development, teaching, and program evaluation.