Fruit for thought

Judy Mackie reports on a new approach to health promotion in the north east and (below) sees how three schools are faring

A regionwide approach to whole-school health promotion has been adopted by three north-east local authorities in an effort to harness the support of education in achieving national health targets for the millennium.

Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray Councils have joined forces with Grampian Heart Campaign and local health board division Health Promotions to encourage all schools - from nursery to secondary - to supplement formal lessons in health education with an informal curriculum promoting healthy lifestyle activities.

The Health Promoting School initiative, launched earlier this summer at the region's annual Towards Health 2000 Conference, is based on the assumption that health promotion can be delivered most successfully if it becomes a core ingredient of a planned and managed school ethos. And to provide schools with the practical support necessary to achieve this, an ambitious resource development programme, involving education and health professionals, will begin in the current academic year.

Over the next three years, Health Promotions will work closely with nine Associated School Groups (ASGs) to develop comprehensive resource packs suitable for use at all levels. Each pack will cover one of the nine key health issues identified as priorities by the Scottish Office - accidents, alcohol, dental health, diet and nutrition, drugs, HIV and sexual health, mental health, physical activity and smoking - and will be promoted to all schools as being the primary source of health information for that particular topic.

Stephanie Hart, one of three new health promotion co-ordinators jointly funded by the local authorities and Health Promotions, says the first three packs, which will be available this time next year, will focus on diet and nutrition, drugs and alcohol.

"The programme represents a major piece of work - every resource covering each topic will be examined, assessed and if suitable, incorporated in the appropriate pack, so that by the year 2000 we will have nine comprehensive reference guides, listing recommended materials such as leaflets, activity sheets and videos, and the levels at which they should be aimed.

"Although the idea of the health-promoting school is by no means a new one - Health Promotions has already established close links with 200 schools in the area - it has up to now been carried out on an individual basis, and in many cases, teachers were re-inventing the wheel when it came to identifying suitable resources and planning projects. The Health Promoting School project takes a holistic approach, aiming to provide a core set of resource packs which have been well researched and tailored specifically to the requirements of local schools."

The initiative was endorsed by HM chief inspector Harvey Stalker at the Towards Health 2000 conference, who said that while certain health improvements had been made on a national scale, there was "no room for a scrap of complacency". Poor diet, low levels of fitness and the effects of smoking, alcohol and drug use, continued to be major causes of death and serious illness in Scotland, he said, and there was still a need for well-considered and co-ordinated sustained action. Schools could play a prominent role in promoting healthy lifestyle messages, but in order to do so effectively, there was a need for health not only to be included as part of the core curriculum, but also to be promoted through the school ethos, or informal curriculum, and in alliances with parents, local health promoting agencies, police, and community and voluntary groups.

He added that planning, co-ordination and evaluation were vital to the process, and that every school should have a health education co-ordinator and, if possible, a health-promoting committee. These could be put in place as part of the school development plan."However it is done, it has to be done," he concluded.

The initiative has been welcomed by the majority of schools in the north east, many of whom already regard themselves as health-promoting establishments. Those present at the conference were pleased to have the opportunity to suggest suitable strategies for furthering the concept of the planned, whole-school approach, and looked forward to sharing some of the new ideas with their colleagues. However, some concern was expressed over the timecost implications involved in setting up health-promoting committees and informal curricular act-ivities, and a few teachers said they may require support in convincing their senior management team as to the benefits. For one in particular, the new packs can't come soon enough: "I badly need the packs to help make my school a health-promoting one. I have been trying for five years!"

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