Student Health

Overview

Student Health

When students are unwell — whether they have a run-of-the-mill cold, a chronic illness, or a mental health condition like depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — it is more difficult for them to learn. Many more students face chronic physical and mental health challenges than in years past, making this a vital area about which education reporters should learn.

When students are unwell — whether they have a run-of-the-mill cold, a chronic illness, or a mental health condition like depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — it is more difficult for them to learn. Many more students face chronic physical and mental health challenges than in years past, making this a vital area about which education reporters should learn.

Student health encompasses a wide range of issues that include physical and mental health diseases, the consequences of risky sexual behavior, food and housing insecurity, and the effects of personal and community violence. Layered over these issues are the health threats that loom large from the spread of the coronavirus in communities, child care facilities, and schools.

These concerns have an effect from preschool classrooms to university lecture halls and dorms, and, in many cases, disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic students who are more likely than their white counterparts to experience chronic illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases and community violence.

The leading chronic physical illnesses for students are asthma, diabetes and obesity. One out of 12 school children has asthma; childhood obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s to one in five school-aged children. And about 187,000 U.S. children and adolescents have diabetes.

Access to school nurses is essential in helping to manage these and other conditions, and to avoid emergency room visits and lost days of school. Yet many schools don’t have a nurse on campus every day. A lack of funding has created a shortage of school nurses as districts struggle to come up with money to hire them. And when they do, salaries for school nurses are often lower than for nurses working in other settings. Though the National Association of School Nurses has lobbied for dedicated federal funding for nurses in schools, the majority are funded through regular and special education funding. One-quarter of schools nationally do not have a nurse, either full- or part-time.

Other major threats to student health and safety are suicide, which increased 56% between 2007 and 2017 among those ages 10-24, and other forms of violence, which can have long-lasting mental health effects for victims and witnesses. In addition, about 20% of U.S. students reported being bullied, with many encountering it online or via text. Hunger and homelessness remain major problems for college students and among students in the pre-K-12 system.

The following information will help journalists find reliable data and understand more about the health issues facing students at all levels.

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Higher Risks for Black and Brown Students

Increased risk of chronic health conditions, high teen birth rates and community violence, all of which disproportionately affect students of color, are obstacles that can keep them out of the classroom. And missing classroom time affects academic progress. Students who are absent 15 or more days each year are “at serious risk of falling behind in school,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

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School Nurses

School nurses are often the gateway to health care for students. They help manage and identify students’ chronic health conditions and connect families with health services and health insurance plans such as Medicaid or state plans. One in four children have a chronic health condition, according to the CDC, and school health comes into greater focus with the outbreak of COVID-19.

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College Health Issues

Students on college campuses report mental health issues including anxiety, depression and stress as top problems. The numbers appear to be on the increase as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to at least one study undertaken from May to July 2020. Some of those stresses may be caused by housing and food insecurity, which continue to be major issues for college students. While binge drinking is reported to be down among teens, it is still a major concern on campuses.

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Sex Education and Teen Sexual Health

Most, but not all, states require sex education in public schools, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Reporters can look to their state regulations and guidelines on sex education and to school districts to see how states implement sex education curriculum.

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Glossary

Adverse Childhood Experience

These are traumatic events that have an adverse impact on a young person and can have long-lasting effects on a child’s mental and physical health. The events can include physical, mental or sexual abuse and the death or incarceration of a parent. These are sometimes abbreviated as ACE or ACEs.

Binge drinking

Binge drinking involves consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. The CDC defines it as four, five or more drinks in two hours or less.

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