Wellness for Children Initiative
Many people around the world recognize that the health of adults begins with healthy children. However, more of us need to understand that wellness education in a person’s early years is key to long-term physical and mental health. The Wellness for Children Initiative is passionate about teaching children the benefits of being healthy and is dedicated to reducing the risk of childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The Initiative’s 2023 trends reflect this commitment.
TREND 1: Food and Mental Health
As we further study our widespread mental health crisis, we recognize that food has a significant impact on mental wellness. Many aspects of our lifestyles impact our mental health, but food is one of the most effective ways to change our brain-gut biology and transform our mental health. As we have experienced an increased focus in mental wellbeing for our children, it is evident that a diet that doesn’t support microbiome development and neurotransmitter signaling and supports a very inflammatory gut-brain biology (with the rampant over consumption of highly processed seed oils that are predominately processed omega 6 poly-unsaturated fatty acids) are literally the “oil” to the inflammatory fire within our children’s bodies.
TREND 2: Integrating Retained Primitive Reflexes
Retained primitive reflexes delay child development and limit a child’s potential from the first year of life. Specialists have found that children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism, sensory processing disorders and learning disabilities have something in common, which is retained primitive reflexes.
The good news is retained primitive reflexes can be integrated into higher-level brain functions at any age using simple neurologic-based exercises and interventions that unlock a child’s physical, academic, emotional, social and behavioral potential.
TREND 3: Mental Health Literacy in Schools
In 2018, New York became the first state to require mental health literacy in K-12. Since then, many states have passed similar legislation; the most recent being Delaware. As of now, most states are still not implementing this effectively, but they are working toward the goal. There is a similar move in many countries throughout the world. Mental Health Literacy has been shown to improve interventions for students at risks of suicide, reduce care inequity, decrease delays in care, increase student productivity and increase peer support (Kutcher, 2016).
TREND 4: Investing in the Arts
A study found that art therapy improved overall wellbeing by 76% and decreased depression by 73%. In the US, California voted in 2022 to increase spending on K-12 arts education so it is equal to 1% of the total education budget, which is expected to be $800 million to $1 billion annually. Research shows children who participate in the arts have better attendance in school and higher achievement in academic subjects. In addition, the arts help students with their social and emotional wellbeing.
“The passage of Prop. 28 makes California a leader in arts education and will lead to the largest investment in arts and music in our nation’s history. My hope is this will start a movement which other states join to provide all 55 million children in public schools the opportunity to participate in arts and music at school”, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent, Austin Beutner.
TREND 5: Getting Creative with Teacher Shortages
Tennessee reported that in the school year 2021-2022, there were 1,024 vacancies throughout the state. To deal with shortages, Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a bill allowing retired teachers to return without losing their retirement benefits. Retirees can earn their full pay and still receive 70% of their (Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System) benefits. Metro Nashville Public Schools is raising teacher salaries from $40,000 to $48,000 to deal with shortages. Another solution is offering teachers the highest substitute rate available to voluntarily use their planning periods to cover classes if a substitute was not available. Schools have also implemented competitive pay and are offering returning teachers a $1,500 retention bonus along with opportunities to earn more bonuses and stipends.
TREND 6: Implementing the School-based Wellness Initiative
Between 2014 and 2018, 103 South Carolina schools across five counties participated in the School-based Wellness Initiative. The program targets policy, systems and environmental change, such as school-wide gardening projects or class-wide stress reduction strategies, instead of solely individual changes. To achieve this, the initiative uses the School Wellness Checklist (SWC). The SWC features seven categories of evidence-based strategies that schools can use to promote a culture of wellness that includes getting started, nutrition, physical activity, social-emotional wellness, wellness culture, staff wellness and sustainability.
One goal of the study is to determine which of these seven categories is most associated with average student body mass index (BMI0 decreases. Average BMIs went down in schools that participated in the initiative and went up in schools that did not. Additionally, in schools that participated for two years or more, a higher SWC score was associated with greater BMI decreases. Students in schools that scored 250 SWC points were 15% less likely to have overweight or obese BMIs than students in schools that earned only 50 SWC points.
TREND 7: School & Family Partnerships Promote Wellness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), parent (or other adult primary caregiver) engagement in schools occurs when parents and school staff work together to support and improve the learning, development and health of children and adolescents. Research has found that students whose parents are involved in their education have a greater likelihood of better health and educational outcomes than those whose parents are not involved. Children achieve higher grades and test scores, better school attendance, higher self-esteem, improved social skills, higher graduation rates and lower rates of risk-taking behavior. These positive outcomes are found regardless of race/ethnicity, class or parents’ level of education.
TREND 8: Limits on Screen Time
An Australia study including 4,013 children identified several categories of screen time — social, educational, passive, interactive and other — in a 2019 paper. According to the study, the type of screen time determines whether it has a positive or negative impact. Researchers found that educational screen time provides the most benefit, showing positive effects on children’s persistence and educational outcomes while also having no significant impact on health. Interactive screen time, which includes time spent playing video games, showed positive educational outcomes but was associated with poorer health. Passive screen time — perhaps one of the more favored for anyone who likes to watch hours of streamed TV shows — is the least healthy form of screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend screen time limits by age. Both organizations recommend that children aged six through 10 uses no more than 1.5 hours of total screen time each day. The organizations also note that the maximum recommended screen time for everyone, independent of age, is two hours.
TREND 9: Corporations Jumping in to Support Children’s Mental Health Crisis
The Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health (MSACMH), in collaboration with our U.K. partner organization, Place2Be, recently sponsored the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) to conduct a survey of U.K. parents. Among their findings: more than two-thirds (68%) of parents surveyed with children aged nine-18 have been concerned about their children’s mental health over the past two years and 48% of working parents who reported concern said their children’s mental health has impacted their performance at work in some way—including having to deal with disruptions and an inability to concentrate on the job. CMHA has developed a set of recommendations for employers to better support and retain employees; create a culture of wellbeing and psychological safety for parents, prioritize employees’ mental health, and provide access to needed resources.