How schools can improve the health of students and their communities
The 2017 Neighborhood Health Report by the Baltimore City Health Department is hard to read. It spells out the stark disparities and desperation in our city with a clarity that is hard to confront. We don’t want the details about homicides, increasing overdoses, and low life expectancy to be about our city–but they are.
It is no secret that death comes easy in Baltimore. Average life expectancy here is 73.6 years, about five years less than the national average of 78.8 and six years less than the Maryland state average of 79.5. This is disturbing, but when we compare life expectancy of our neighborhoods, the disparities are glaring.
The Clifton-Berea (94.9% African American, median income $25,738) has a life expectancy of 66.9 years while Cross-Country/Cheswolde (72.9% White, median income $54,868) has a life expectancy of 87.1 years.
This is a 20-year difference between life expectancy in a predominantly white, middle income neighborhood and a black, lower income neighborhood. We know that our neighborhoods have long been divided along racial and economic lines, but this gap isn’t just the shadow of our segregated history, it’s the misery of life in poor, segregated neighborhoods today.
Chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity are the leading causes of death in Baltimore and the nation. In 2014, approximately one third of Baltimore City residents were obese. Obesity is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Drugs and alcohol overdose deaths increased 56.6% from 2015 to 2016 when 694 people died. Homicides, most related to drugs, add to this total of drug related deaths. There were 318 Homicides in 2016. On the 300th day of 2017, 291 homicides have been recorded, a rate of nearly one a day.
How long will we allow this misery to exist? What will we do now to change these brutal statistics in the years ahead?
If our schools are truly preparing children for life, we need to ensure that they won’t suffer the same chronic diseases, addictions, and violence a few years into the future.
Growing the mind, body and spirit of our children, their families, and their community should be the primary goal of our schools. This is a key shift in how we now view the mission and role of schools.
Here is a quick checklist. How is your school doing?
- Is every child getting good nutrition and learning to create healthy meals?
- Is every child getting an hour of exercise every day?
- Is every child getting regular medical, dental, and vision checkups?
- Is every child offered mental health services?
- Is every child offered meditation or yoga training to relieve stress?
- Is every child connected to trusted adult mentors?
- Is every child offered time to learn and play in nature?
- Is every child learning conflict resolution and peer conflict mediation?
- Is every child taking health information home to their families on health access, addiction treatment programs, jobs and social services?
- Is your school free from asthma triggers like mice, cockroaches, dust, bus idling, air fresheners and toxic cleaning materials?
- Are classroom temperatures between 65 and 78 degrees?
- Do students have free access to water and bathrooms?
Some of this is happening now.
Some schools have yoga and meditation centers; some are improving their nutrition and outdoor education programs; some are instituting peer conflict mediation programs; some have health suites and vision care for students. Some schools are involved with THREAD, which provides mentors for at risk students.
Some is not enough.
Every school needs to meet the human needs of every child. This isn’t easy, and schools are already overwhelmed. Expanding out of school programs, integrating community programs, and bringing in more volunteers from the community can help create this change.
If we realign education to the needs of our students, they will do better in school–and in life. They will be ready to reclaim Baltimore and the years of life which are rightfully theirs. -shan
Want to learn more about health in Baltimore City?
Here is a link to the 2017 health report on Baltimore City as a whole.
Here is the link to download the individual neighborhood profiles:
Here are links to a variety of health maps.
2013 life expectancy:
Teen birth rate
Violent crime 2013
Avertable deaths 2011
2015 homicide epidemic