ACHIEVING A HEALTHY FUTURE FOR OUR CHILDREN, SCHOOLS, HEALTH SYSTEMS & STATES

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Top 10 Myths

  1. It’s up to parents to keep their kids healthy.
    Reality:  1 in 3 teens have prediabetes, and an even higher percentage have debilitating sadness for a significant part of each year.  A majority have long-term, literally dangerous levels of physical inactivity.  And this applies across income levels and ethnicities—affecting us all.  Parents send their children to school 6-7 hours most days for 13 years, in order to learn. Parents, on their own, are not succeeding at keeping their kids healthy—they need and would benefit greatly from schools’ help. And there are many evidence-based, non-controversial ways for schools to do this—including physical & health education, recess, etc.
  2. I shouldn’t have to pay other people’s health costs.
    Reality:  If you have healthy habits, you generally pay much more in premiums than you get back in covered medical services.  You have probably already realized that healthy private health insurance subscribers pay for their unhealthier fellow enrollees’ health care costs.  But you may not have realized that even your medical fee deductibles are artificially high: since higher medical fees paid by private health plans subsidize lower-reimbursing public plans like Medicare & Medicaid/AHCCCS. You also may not have realized that half of your federal income taxes pay for other people’s health care, too—for Medicare, Medicaid, veteran’s benefits, employer health insurance tax deductions, etc.  (Sorry, all those payroll taxes you paid did not go into your own Medicare account to pay for your own future health costs—those funds have already been spent to pay for others’ costs.)  So you are paying for others’ health care, whether you like it or not.  The good news is that as much as 90% of all health costs are preventable.  But as long as we keep not trying to improve kids’ health habits K-12, most other people will have unhealthy habits and bad health will not be prevented…and you will pay an ever-increasing chunk of your income for other people’s health care costs.
  3. No one including government can change people’s health habits.
    Reality:  Thanks in large part to government policies, smoking has declined from 42% of adults to less than 12%.  Helped to a significant extent by school-based strategies, smoking also declined from 36% of teens to under 6% of teens.  These were 300%-600% reductions in unhealthy behavior!  Compare those reductions to the Healthy Students Healthy State target of a 20% reduction in future chronic conditions and health care costs via effective preventive K-12 education.  (If we also introduce reinforcing policies for adults, as we did with smoking, we are targeting total costs savings of 50%, compared to what health care costs will be otherwise.)
  4. The government will just waste our money if we increase taxes to improve kids’ health K-12.
    Reality: Americans support paying taxes, when they believe that the monies will go into areas that benefit them and benefit those they care about. This is true from Social Security and Medicare to taxes for public safety, national security, highway construction & road repair, and school-supporting taxes. These broadly-backed costs make up the vast majority of government spending—with for example welfare costs being quite small in comparison (less than 5% of the federal budget). Adding transparency and accountability, which Healthy Students Healthy State does at an unprecedented level, reinforces future support by the public.
  5. PE sucks.
    Reality: Yes, some physical education is terrible. But let’s consider why…? In part, because PE has always been treated as a low priority by most schools, districts and states. In spite of that, a lot of students have had “good PE”—and teachers can be trained in how to improve their classes. Good PE is more individualized, more relevant, and more fun for students. For example, by high school, students are developing their own personal plans to maintain their health, in ways that are realistic for them and that keep them motivated. With higher prioritization AND more resources AND accountability, the quality of PE and of kids’ positive experiences with it will increase significantly above past levels. And PE at most schools will become quite a bit better than it has been historically.
  6. Poor families can’t afford healthy nutrition.
    Reality: Most Americans eat much more than they need for their daily energy and health. If they just ate enough calories for adequate daily nutrition, they would in many cases have enough money to pay for healthy food. A recent study even found that a healthy “Mediterranean” diet costs even less than a typical unhealthy one. But we are not taking advantage of children’s 13 years K-12 to help them develop healthier nutrition habits—including educating kids (& their families) on how to trade more calories than they need for healthier calories—at no extra cost.
  7. We can’t expect schools to teach kids healthy nutrition habits, if their parents’ nutrition habits are unhealthy.
    Reality: One particularly powerful antismoking strategy was explaining to parents, how their smoking could harm their own children. Likewise, many parents feed their children in a healthier manner than the parents eat, when they know this is in their children’s interests. Children can also be effective change agents in reverse—to improve their parents’ physical activity and nutrition. “Parent components” in K-12 nutrition education help this to happen even more intentionally and effectively.
  8. Food deserts (lack of local stores selling fruit & vegetables etc.) cause unhealthy nutrition.
    Reality: In many neighborhoods, there is little demand for fresh fruit & vegetables. If demand were to increase, we can count on capitalism to meet the demand—just as junk food is everywhere…because we want it. Let’s get real: people don’t buy fruits & veggies just because produce is sitting there in front of them. But they will buy them—if & when they want to eat them…AND/OR when they want fruit and vegetables for their kids.
  9. We can’t improve health without ending poverty.
    Reality: By having physical activity and healthier meals at school, we are already improving kids’ health— whatever is happening at home and in society. We even reduced child obesity in very low income children just by making school meal standards healthier. Of all the “social determinants of health”, schools are the only way of creating a 13-year “captive audience” for improvement—with significant time every weekday, during most weeks of the year, to help change kids’ trajectories in life.  And better health increases days worked and reduces household costs—which increases wages AND disposable income…i.e., reduces poverty. So if you hate poverty, support our work—as a rare realistic opportunity to permanently reduce poverty!
  10. Politics and society are too polarized for legislatures to appropriate more funds for K-12 schools to improve kids’ health.
    Reality: Our Arizona K-5 school recess law earned the support of over 90% of AZ legislators of both parties. Our State Board of Education resolution to increase focus on physical, health & arts education, with accountability, passed unanimously—supported by Board members on a nonpartisan basis. But we had to spend significant time educating legislators and state board members first. Since then, we have also dramatically boosted our cost-benefit/ROI argument, as well as the national security rationale for more & better physical & health education—both of which have strong appeal to many conservatives. We are now working on the final big step: boosting voters’ and state leaders’ awareness of our children’s health risks AND the resulting need to invest in preventive K-12 education. To achieve this, we are developing a broad nonpartisan public pressure coalition. But it will take time, money and effort to get there.

The bottom line on Myths vs Reality?
We need to stop giving excuses for inaction—
and invest in the many things that work!