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Health in Mind: Improving Education Through Wellness

May 9, 2012
Washington, DC

I want to thank the Healthy Schools Campaign, the Trust for America’s Health, and your partners for the work you’ve put into this important report.  I look forward to working with you on these priorities in the months ahead.

As the President and Secretary Duncan have both said many times, the only way America can out-compete the rest of the world is if we out-educate the rest of the world.  And that requires more than just the right teachers, the right curricula, and the right classroom technology.

Our children’s success also depends on their health. The more health risks a child faces, the less likely he or she is to succeed in school and in the future. Whether it’s obesity or severe asthma or feeling unsafe at school – these factors make it harder to pay attention, harder to retain information, harder to work with your peers, and harder to think critically.

Any teacher can tell you that when a student doesn’t get enough sleep or doesn’t get a healthy breakfast, they don’t have much chance of having a productive day at school.

The good news is that schools are also a great place to reach kids with the kind of programs and policies that can help them stay healthy – from a highly-trained school nurse to regular activity periods.

When I was a Governor, we recognized that quality school health programs had to be a part of our strategy to help students succeed. So we created a system to identify and spotlight the most innovative school health policies. It wasn’t long before we started seeing some of those best approaches replicated in schools across the state.

And today, this Administration is taking the same approach nationwide.

Last year, HHS and the Department of Education worked together with many other partners to develop our National Prevention Strategy— a comprehensive effort to identify opportunities to improve health across the federal government, states, and in communities everywhere.

As part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move Campaign, we’re working with schools to make their meals healthier.  And we’re connecting chefs to their local schools to teach kids about food and nutrition.&

We also took some important steps under the Recovery Act and the 2010 health care law.  With funds from these laws, we’re reaching out to the cities and towns that have developed innovative approaches for promoting healthy lifestyles, to help expand those programs.

I visited a school in Louisville where they don’t just have gym class – they take short fitness breaks right in the middle of their other classes. And even the kindergarteners are getting exercise as they learn their ABCs.

In Clark County, Nevada, they’re making walking and biking routes to dozens of schools safer and more secure. As more children feel safe walking to school, they will choose to start their day that way, with a little exercise and some fresh air.

But nutritious food and exercise are just the start of good health.  Our kids also need access to affordable health care.

This shouldn’t be a controversial principle.  And yet when the President took office, more than 7 million American children had no health insurance.  That was simply unacceptable. 

So one of his first acts was signing the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, which is part of the reason that today, despite a tough economy, more children have health insurance than ever before in American history.

And a year later, he signed the Affordable Care Act, which has ensured that no child will ever again be denied health insurance because they were born with a disability or have asthma or diabetes.

And in less than two years, more parents across the country will have access to affordable health insurance through new health insurance marketplaces, improving the chance that their child will be insured.

Now to make sure there are enough health care providers to see everyone, we’re also investing in our primary care workforce. 

And we’re investing in community health centers, which are a critical part of our safety net for children.

Today, I’m proud to announce that as part of the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services is making available $75 million for the construction and renovation of school-based health centers across the country.

School-based health centers not only enable children with acute or chronic illnesses to attend school.  They also improve the overall health and wellness of children and adolescents through health screenings, health promotion and disease prevention activities. 

And because they’re in the community, school-based health centers make access that much easier.

We recognize that not every student in America can have a health center in his school. But these centers are an important part of our broad-based approach to keeping kids healthy in school.

We know that our kids spend about half their time in school.  If our schools are unhealthy places, we’re going to have unhealthy children no matter what they do with the rest of their time. 

On the other hand, if we can make our schools healthy places – with nutritious food, opportunities to exercise, and access to care – then we’ll have taken a huge step towards making sure our children are ready to succeed and able to reach their full potential.

Thank you.