Health Matters Summit and Howell Wechsler's 5 Points


By Paul Rosengard

In January, I had the pleasure of attending the “Health Matters” summit in Indian Wells, CA sponsored by the Clinton Foundation.  They assembled a number of terrific speakers and panelists — a rich blend of scientists, business people who care about health and wellness, celebrities and VIP’s who actually walk the talk.

We owe our thanks to the Clinton Foundation for their genuine commitment to public health and future generations.  They’ve been gracious supporters of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation — an organization SPARK has worked with since their inception — that does terrific work helping schools develop more effective wellness policies and programs.

The wonderful Annika Sorenstam, our SPARK advocate and spokesperson, and Don Ochsenreiter (Executive Director) of the ANNIKA Foundation were there as well.  We’re grateful to Annika for mentioning SPARK and the terrific work we do together during her presentation during the session titled, “Building Healthier Communities.”

Howell Wechsler is the Director of DASH (Division of Adolescent and School Health) at CDC.  Wendy and I spoke with him the evening before he presented and we were laughing about his having only 3 min. to address the audience.  Howell spent a lot more than 3 min. trying to figure out what to say and told us he had his talk down to 5 min. and 20 seconds…

The next day his panel was moderated by Hillary Clinton during the section titled, “Raise the Bar for Healthy Schools.”  I thought Howell’s comments were terrific and want to share them with you.  Please help us spread the good word and pay this forward:

1.  Schools have got to be greatly involved in activating wellness.

– Young people face many health problems (obesity, teen pregnancy, violence, etc.).

– Schools did not create these problems and should not be expected to solve them on their own.

– But we can’t solve these problems without schools playing a strong role.

2.  Promoting health needs to be a fundamental part of the mission of schools.

– This notion is deeply rooted in American history.

– But it has been forgotten by many of today’s educators and policymakers.

– They obsess over standardized test scores to the exclusion of all else that is important for our young people.

– So school health programs are increasingly marginalized and typically among first things cut.

– Even though there is a strong and growing body of evidence documenting the links between student health and academic achievement and the positive impact that school health programs have on academic achievement.

3.  We know what needs to be done.

– We could always benefit from more research.

– But the truth is that we already have a ton of knowledge about exactly what schools need to do to have a strong impact on the health of students.

– The problem is a failure to implement that which we know works.

– CDC and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and others have tools that lay out a clear agenda of effective health promotion practices for schools.

– We know what needs to be done.  The science is strong.

4.  Promoting health needs to be integrated into school accountability requirements.

– It is not enough to do nice events like health fairs or fun runs.

– For those celebrities, sports stars, corporate leaders who want to help, dropping in for pretty photo ops is not going to lead to lasting improvements in students’ health behaviors.

– And we cannot depend on principals and teachers spontaneously embracing health promotion when all the pressures and incentives from above push in the other direction.

– We will only make progress if we systematically build into school governing practices strong accountability measures that require or incentivize schools to support health policies and programs.

– Measures such as requiring schools to include health objectives as part of their state-mandated school improvement plans, having health councils and health coordinators, conducting science-based assessments of their health policies and practices.

– To have meaningful impact, we’ve got to make these kinds of systemic changes.

5.  No progress will be made unless all of us speak up.

– As parents, students, teachers, health care workers, corporate leaders, as Americans…we all have an immense capacity to influence educational policies and practices in our communities and beyond.

– Everyone in this room probably agrees that schools should do more to promote health.

– But across the Nation, many of the people making decisions about school policies don’t get it.

– So it is up to all of us to cite the scientific evidence, and to speak loudly and strongly so those policy makers will understand that it is no longer acceptable to marginalize and cut school health programs.

– We will not make progress in activating wellness for the next generation unless we all speak up.