Wellness Week 2019 encourages health and education to collaborate to “build healthy schools”

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Image courtesy of PAHO
Image courtesy of PAHO

Related tags: Healthy eating, school meals

Throughout Pan-America, schools and communities are celebrating Wellness Week 2019. Their aim is to “build healthy schools” to promote the importance of access to health for students around the world.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) launched this year’s Wellness Week with making health easy at the forefront of its campaign. PAHO is urging health and education sectors in Pan America to work together to create healthy schools.

Building healthy schools

Adopting the #AHealthySchoolIs as part of its social media campaign, Wellness Week — celebrated between 14th-21st September 2019 — strives to use the increased awareness and united efforts to advocate for better health. It calls for the Ministries of Health and Ministries of Education to team up on their commitment to create healthy schools.

On a broader level, the week-long initiative marks an opportunity for ministries, teachers, students and communities to work together long-term to improve health across the Americas. PAHO wants to enable local communities to make healthy choices easily. As schools sit within the heart of communities, these decisions need to promote, foster and reach children and young people.

Nutritional knowledge is a key component of embracing and realizing healthy schools. A health-promoting school can achieve this by inspiring and supporting healthy behavior through encouraging healthy eating and physical activity.

Wellbeing Week 2019: What is a healthy school?

Launched at the PAHO Headquarters in Washington DC, Wellness Week 2019, centers on the theme of “building healthy schools”. ​It aims to highlight the prevention of health-related concerns and illness, but also promote health through connecting with, and investing in, individuals to create healthy communities.

Wellness Week 2019 features the dedicated efforts of the local E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, which is drawing upon the “building healthy schools”​ message to boast health and well-being in its school community. As part of the week, PAHO will conduct a panel discussion, which will discuss ways that schools can actively contribute to creating health for their local and wider communities.

Around the Americas, countries and territories will see their health and education sectors come together to take part in joint community activities to mark Wellness Week. Using #AHealthySchoolIs on social media, students, parents and teachers will share what it means to be a healthy school, and the impact it has learning and teaching in one.

Federico Damian Encina Abretch, a student in the 5th grade, said: “The most important thing for me is that children eat well.”

“A healthy school is one that educates nutritionists on nutritional knowledge throughout the school’s curriculum. And then provides an environment that empowers them to use it during their day to day life,”​ NNeka from Barbados.

“A place that is really inspiring and stimulating. A place where the food you get actually helps your body to grow and develop,”​ Lucien from Suriname explains.

Ultimately, PAHO wants to see schools become a positive example of how we can choose to be healthy, easily. Advocating for clear and structured health policies in schools, creating a healthy physical and social environment, encouraging community participation and joining forces with partners within the area to raise the profile of healthy schools are on the agenda.

When Dr Carissa Etienne, Director, PAHO was asked students what a healthy school ​is, clean water and nutritious food were the first elements she talked about: “Schools are important spaces to promote the health and wellbeing of students, youth, teachers, their families and communities. We must empower students and their communities to make healthier choices.”

Health and education working together

“Given that schools can serve as vital drivers for development in their communities, it is imperative that we consider how collaboration with the education sector can help us achieve health for all,”​ said Carissa Etienne, Director, PAHO.

“We owe it to the students in our Region to make sure they have the healthiest, brightest futures possible,” ​expressed Andres de Francisco, Director of PAHO ́s Family, Health Promotion and Life Course Department. “By working with schools and communities, we are taking a step towards making this future a reality.”

Wider community support

Promoting the uptake of healthy lifestyles, Wellness Week aims to move towards universal health. PAHO is currently preparing to present its strategy and plan of action on health promotion amid Sustainable Development Goals 2019-2030 to Member States during the 57th Directing Council in September 2019. The organization hopes the wellness campaign efforts to encourage health promotion for universal health will gather pace in the lead up to the presentation.

This year’s Wellness Week theme will specifically highlight the importance of strengthening key healthy settings, which is one of the strategy and plan of action’s main pillars.

Almax Lindsay, or Fruitsy, talks about healthy eating at Port Antonio High School. He’s been given the name Fruitsy because that’s what he says the school does: “Endorse the children with fruits.”

“I think it's a responsibility for every parent and even teachers to encourage how important fruit is to their health. Fruit should be a daily part of our lives,” ​emphasizes Fruitsy.

Ever Faustino Beaufont in Paraguay was the country’s first educational institution to be certified by PAHO/WHO as a healthy school. Lourdes Mabel Gonzalez, the schools’ principal says: “The healthy schools project, was, in the beginning, a big challenge at the institutional level. There must be a great power of conviction to empower the community so this dream can become a reality.”

“The school as a healthy environment is a process rather than a goal where each educational community based on their own necessities produces a plan to achieve its health and wellness potential,” ​added Gonzalez.

Now in its eight year, PAHO set up Wellness Week in 2011, after taking inspiration from Caribbean Wellness Day. Wellness Week seeks to develop the conversation and combative action towards noncommunicable diseases and making healthy choices easy.

Since 2018, Wellness Week campaigns have shifted from focusing specifically on disease only to exploring and emphasizing how health is a fundamental focus for communities.

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