Teachers play a critical role in efforts to promote adolescent health

According to a study conducted by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and published in the Journal of School Health. The study results indicate that teachers provide valuable information to school staff about health issues important to adolescents, particularly because they hear feedback from adolescents daily.

“We found that teachers agreed that schools are an important place to discuss and deliver health messages,” says Alwyn T. Cohall, MD, associate professor of clinical sociomedical sciences, director of Harlem Health Promotion Center and lead author. “However, they have expressed concern about their ability to manage mental health, behavioral health and reproductive health issues, and want additional staff development workshops to address those needs.”

More than half (52%) of respondents heard student talk about health once a week or more in classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and playgrounds. Seventy percent of teachers said they were actively approached by students one to three times per semester or more with personal concerns or health issues. “Our study shows that relying solely on certified health education teachers to convey health messages and facilitate referrals to services would seem rather limiting given these contextual realities,” Dr. Cohall noted.

While approximately 90% of U.S. school districts require health education in public schools, relatively little emphasis has been placed on examining the role non-health teachers play in facilitating health promotion efforts. adolescent health. Yet teachers are among the most important influences in the lives of school-aged children between the ages of 6 and 18.

“It is conceivable that nearly all teachers have opportunities, both formal and informal, to influence adolescent health behavior. However, to our knowledge, there have been few studies that examine to what extent extent general university teachers are engaged in health-related interactions with students,” Dr. Cohall observed.

The survey was conducted among college teachers and administrators working at four schools in the North Manhattan community of New York City. These schools had a combined enrollment of approximately 4,600 students and an active school health clinic on site, providing a wide range of free physical and mental health services to students during school hours, including primary health care and reproductive.

The teachers interviewed believe that the school is an appropriate place for the exchange and dissemination of health information. Yet the data indicates that less than 20% of teachers had provided formal school materials on a health topic such as nutrition (19.8%), tobacco, drugs or alcohol (19.0%), reproductive health (17.2%), mental health (15%); less than 8% planned to provide this material in the future.

In general, teachers described themselves as reasonably comfortable with many of these issues. They were less comfortable discussing issues at home, emotional or mental health, medical issues or illness. Sixty-three percent of teachers surveyed said they had referred a student to the school clinic, suggesting that teachers play an important role in facilitating care for young people.

More than three-quarters of teachers were interested in receiving staff development on issues with peers (77.5%) and emotional or mental health (77.3%). The other two areas in which more than half of teachers were interested in staff development were home issues and reproductive health issues related to sex, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Teachers were approached by students regardless of race/ethnicity. The implicit perception that teachers are accessible and credible sources of information, regardless of race or ethnicity, has important implications. For example, research has consistently shown that students who feel connected to their school are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

“Our findings suggest the need for closer and more consistent interactions between school clinic staff and school staff throughout the year, and underscore the need for further research to develop cost-effective and rapid strategies to improve health literacy of all school staff,” said Dr. Cohall.

This project was supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control. The full study results are published in the Journal of School Health, Volume 77 Number 7 Page 344-350.

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