Health Column

February 22, 1989 4 min read

Teachers should encourage their students to receive federally subsidized breakfasts and lunches at school, a new report concludes.

The report, prepared for the National Education Association by the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington-based advocacy group, says that teachers also should urge their schools to start a breakfast program and should make sure that students who receive free or reduced-price meals are not singled out in front of their classmates.

Such efforts are needed, says the report, because studies have shown that hungry students have more difficulty learning.

Undernourished and hungry children are less active, curious, and attentive, the report states, and they have more difficulty concentrating.

The final Reagan Administration budget recommended a $900-million savings in the school-lunch program.

In the budget proposal unveiled this month, President Bush did not specifically address school-lunch funding. But officials of the Office of Management and Budget have indicated a willingness to change or drop Mr. Reagan’s recommendation.

Copies of the report, “The Relationship Between Nutrition and Learning: A School Employee’s Guide to Information and Action,” are available for $7.00 each from frac, 1319 F Street, N.W., #500, Washington, D.C. 20004.

The California Department of Education has launched an initiative to encourage all schools to offer a comprehensive health-education program.

The “Healthy Kids, Healthy California” campaign, unveiled this month, asks schools to adopt an eight-part health-education program that requires the cooperation of school staff, parents, and the local community.

The program suggests that schools develop a sequenced health- and physical-education curriculum for all students; provide health, counseling, and psychological services; ensure that the food prepared in the school’s cafeteria is nutritious; and provide health-promotion programs for its staff members. School officials, it says, also should ensure that the learning environment is safe and healthy.

Because no state funds have yet been allocated for the initiative, the document also suggests that schools seek aid from both parents and businesses to carry out the program.

Department officials said they expect that a portion of the $900 million that is projected to be raised from a new state cigarette tax will be earmarked for the program.

“The tendency in school health programs has long been to concentrate on specific issues--anti-smoking programs, accident prevention, drug and alcohol abuse--without focusing on the larger challenge of promoting a general disposition toward wellness among students,” states an information packet mailed to all schools.

“Research suggests,” it adds, “that a comprehensive approach is much more effective than attempts to put out a series of brushfires.”

To slow the spread of aids, the federal government should place greater emphasis on collecting information about sexual practices and drug use, the National Research Council concludes in a new report.

The report argues that such information is needed to predict how many--and by what means--people will be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes aids. Currently, public-health officials only tabulate how many people have the fatal disease.

As part of this effort to obtain more accurate information, the report recommends that all newborn babies and all women seeking abortions be given blood tests anonymously.

The group, which is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, recommends sex education for all students, including explicit information about aids and ways to prevent it. aids education, the report says, should begin with elementary-school children.

Such efforts, it cautions, should not seek to instill fear in either children or adults.

The study cites as an example of an approach that should not be emulated an aids brochure produced by the U.S. Department of Education. The brochure wrongly focused on the risk of condom failure in order to promote the view that abstinence is the best way to avoid the disease, the nrc report argues.

That focus, says the report, can lead to “feelings of hopelessness and frustration,” and may discourage young adults from using condoms.

Two recent studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control examine the spread of measles among children who should have been vaccinated against the disease.

In 1988, more than 40 percent of the 513 cases of measles confirmed in Los Angeles County were preventable, the cdc maintains. But among the preschool-age children who had measles, the agency reports, 85.6 percent had not been vaccinated.

The cdc recommends more community-outreach programs to vaccinate such children, many of whom are members of low-income, minority families.

In a second paper, the cdc recommends measles vaccinations for children as young as 9 months in some high-risk areas. During an outbreak, junior- and senior-high students should be revaccinated if their most recent dosage was administered before 1980, it adds.--ef

A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 1989 edition of Education Week as Health Column