5 Of the Biggest Health Threats to K-12 Schools and How to Combat Them
With each passing year, more and more children are diagnosed with various health issues. From a lack of school health staff to severe allergies, check out 5 of the biggest health concerns that K-12 schools nationwide face.
When a kid gets sick at school, generally they go to the school nurse. But, at many schools that don’t employ a full-time registered nurse, that’s not possible. Additionally, the question of who takes responsibility for student health records comes up. If there aren’t any full-time nurses, does the burden then fall to a part-time health staff employee or a business officer? How are all of the day-to-day administrative and clinical tasks communicated? All it would take is just one small misstep with a student’s medication or an athlete’s concussion rehab track for a substantial liability case. In situations like this, communication and coordination are critical to a successful school health department. Ideally, every school would have at least 1 full-time nurse, but since that is not an option, it’s crucial that schools house their student health information in one secure, centralized location, where all health staff, even rotating personnel, can access the information to coordinate better student care.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, asthma has been on the rise since the early 1980s and now affects close to 9 percent of children. That’s a serious statistic, since the condition is the top reason kids miss school, and it also compromises their sleep, concentration, self-esteem, and other areas of mental health. School nurses can teach students how to use an inhaler, avoid triggers, and recognize when to visit a health care provider.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), people are 4 x more likely to get a repeat concussion at a later time. If you are a school nurse, an athletic trainer, or any staff member at a K-12 school, it is essential to be educated on how to identify and manage concussion symptoms. So what is a concussion? It is a type of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. This fast movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain, and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells. It is important to note that concussions do not just occur in athletes. They can happen on the school playground if a student trips and falls, or when they bend down to grab their school books and knock their head on the desk. The CDC states that an estimated 329,290 children under the age of 19 are treated annually in the Emergency Room for sports and recreational-related injuries and concussions. Recognition and an appropriate response when these types of injuries first occur can help speed up the recovery process and prevent further injury.
In the 10 years between 1997 and 2007, the prevalence of food allergies in children has increased by 50%, and this statistic keeps climbing. It can become an overwhelming task for schools to manage student health, including allergies. Perhaps the most frightening thing about severe allergies is that, unless the student undergoes an extensive and expensive allergy test, there’s no way of knowing that they have an allergy until they have a reaction for the first time. School food vendors across the country have become better about identifying and displaying the ingredients in school lunches, but there is still a long way to go. When possible, foods with known common allergens such as peanuts, soy, and gluten should be kept separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination. School health and administrative staff should always be well versed in their student allergy action plans and school response protocols so that time is not wasted tracking down vital information if an emergency occurs.
Stress is the fifth biggest health concern that students face. In today’s busy and competitive world, stress is becoming an increasing problem for children and adolescents. In fact, a survey released in 2014 suggests that U.S. teens are actually more stressed than adults. Stress can stem from parents, from school, and even from the pressure children put on themselves to be the best. Stress can lead to a number of health problems, including trouble sleeping, a disruption of eating habits, and difficulty concentrating at school.
“It is alarming that the teen stress experience is so similar to that of adults. It is even more concerning that they seem to underestimate the potential impact that stress has on their physical and mental health,” says American Psychological Association (APA) CEO and Executive Vice President, Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D. To break this cycle of stress and unhealthy behaviors as a nation, we need to provide teens with better support and health education at school and home, at the community level and in their interactions with healthcare professionals.”