The Essential Role of Health Education in Early Childhood

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Type-2 diabetes used to have a different name. It was called “Adult-Onset Diabetes.” Doctors witnessed it primarily in grownups who had allowed poor eating habits to get the best of them. That name has been modified to reflect the fact that children are experiencing dietary-related diabetes at increasingly high levels because of adolescent obesity.

Kids today are experiencing health problems that are the consequence of choices they never fully understood they were making. In this article, we take a look at how health education in early childhood can improve overall outcomes and lead to healthier, happier children.

Prevention is Key

Preventative health strategies are so much more effective than reactive ones. Let’s take the type-2 diabetes example from earlier. Say a child has been diagnosed with diet and lifestyle-related diabetes. They are eleven years old.

Obviously, that’s a bad situation. They know it. Their parents know it. Choices are made. Habits are modified. Weight is lost. Slowly, the child’s health improves. One year later, the child has regulated their blood sugar.

Great news? Sure. Of course. But, the child will always have to keep a close eye on their blood sugar. The potential for type-2 diabetes will hang like a storm cloud over the rest of their life.

Here’s a better story. That child has a good early health education. They and their family are better positioned to make health choices. They never get diabetes at all.

Turning your health around is great, but when you experience diet-related complications, they tend to leave your mark. Unhealthy food narrows your arteries even if you eat spinach the next day. Poorly balanced meals can cause permanent issues for your overall health.

Bottom line? A child who knows how to make sensible dietary and exercise choices will grow into a healthier adult.

Habit Begins Early

Health is approached in much the same way as finance is concerned when it comes to public education. Schools do little to nothing to prepare kids for how to manage these important aspects of their lives. The child is expected to suddenly understand them when they turn eighteen, as if by osmosis.

It doesn’t work that. What happens instead is that many kids never experience the observable impacts of poor eating or exercise habits thanks to their young metabolisms. Then, sometime in their early twenties, they find that they are gaining weight and getting bad blood tests.

High cholesterol and hypertension start at the home. Kids who eat apples instead of chips after school grow up to be adults who will do the same.

Habit is not just about eating food that keeps you thin. It’s about making choices that contribute to your overall wellness. This includes diet, but it also includes getting good sleep, drinking enough water, monitoring your stress levels, and pursuing holistic pleasures. Hikes. Mindfulness activities. Reading.

Activities that naturally produce serotonin in your brain—the chemical responsible for relaxation.
Habits built around health will contribute to happier adults. However, they don’t happen overnight. It’s easiest to build these routines in children who are still impressionable.

Regular health-related education helps start these habits early.

Health has More Than One Meaning

Of course, health is not just about how much you weigh. How healthy you eat. It’s also about how you feel. Modern health education reflects this by focusing on total wellness. Diet, exercise, vital function, sure. Also, rest, happiness, and stress management. Children on the receiving end of a well-balanced health education will know how to recognize and process their feelings.

This is already happening in many parts of the country as schools are taking a proactive approach toward recognizing how stress and anxiety influence overall health. Many school districts are enacting “wellness programs,” that give kids the opportunity to take a step back and process their feelings. This can take the form of simple tools like quiet corners—small spaces in classrooms where kids can go to take a moment to themselves.

It can also be achieved through more deliberately planned programming. Some schools offer mindfulness or yoga programs as extracurricular activities—or as incorporated elements of mandatory physical health education.

These steps, gradual though they may be, are making schools healthier for all of their students.

Where and When Does Health Education Happen?

School health classes have existed for a long time—often at the butt-end of jokes. It’s the place where kids sometimes receive their first—possibly only–lecture on sexual health.

It also typically covers a wider range of exercise and nutrition concerns. Clearly, however, these programs have not been enough to combat obesity.

Where and when should health education take place? Kids are most heavily influenced by what they experience at home. Parents can make a big impact through several means:

  • Focus on healthy choices. Weaving healthy choices into your family’s daily routine is the best way to regulate weight and other important health considerations.
  • Instill healthy habits. Health isn’t only about what you eat. It’s also about what you do. Or—don’t do. Encourage your kids to spend less time on their phones and more time outside doing activities that keep them active.
  • Educate while you instruct. Telling people what to do is never a sustainable way to modify behavior. Make them active agents in their health choices by providing clear explanations for what you are doing. Explain what benefits various foods have. Help them understand what consequences they might experience if they neglect exercise.

Nothing breeds results more effectively than habit. Once you enact your policies it’s important to stick with them. Not only will this help your children actually experience the results you are hoping to create, but it will provide them with routines they can integrate into healthy adult lifestyles.

Kids are very vulnerable. While they are in a position to make health choices, this freedom is ultimately only given to them by parents and educators who are willing to play an active role in forming healthy, sustainable habits.

About Sensory Edge 533 Articles
At SensoryEdge our focus is to educate, inform, and inspire each person caring for children to be and do their very best. It is not always easy and sometimes we don't take action (or we take the wrong action) because of a lack of understanding the real issues. We hope that the conversations that occur here will help in some small way better the lives of children, their families, and the professionals who work with them. We are always looking for valuable contributions to our site so if you are interested in becoming a contributor contact us.