Using Your Voice to Help Provide Access for All

Amy Kobos – Health and Wellness Promoter, Fayetteville

Did you know that 1 in 4 children in North Carolina are at risk for hunger, and that nearly 30% of children under the age of 18 live in poverty?

We can easily assume people come from the same place as us, and we even get wrapped up in our own bubble thinking everyone has similar advantages, but in reality we know this isn’t true. Many American children and families struggle. Don’t assume every student has the privilege to have college freely financed or have parents who can help with homework. Many children don’t even have the privilege to eat a healthy meal, have a safe place outside to exercise, or have a family member they can count on.

The opportunity to access health and healthy living across different populations and how various social determinants can impact this is what is called HEALTH EQUITY.

Examples of health inequity are:

  • Not having access to grocery stores that offer nutritious food. These neighborhoods are typically saturated with nearby convenient stores.
  • Inability to receive mortgage loans based on the zip code you reside. Data show that African-American populations are the most affected.
  • Not having access to safe places to exercise. Even if there is a park nearby, often it is an area where kids cannot go alone.
  • Not being able to receive adequate life skills education or school guidance in the home environment because of absence of parental figures/other support. Hispanic and African-American communities are at the highest risk, but is not limited to these populations.
  • Possessing a higher rate of chronic disease, low birth weight, mental illness, including suicidality based on sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and gender norms.

Health inequity negatively impacts child development. If a child does not have access, this will likely adversely affect his/her health in the future.

According to the World Health Organization, health inequities are “systematic, socially produced (and therefore modifiable) and unfair.” This can be bad, and this can be good; the good being that you have the power to improve it.

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF HEALTH INEQUITY AND WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Social determinants affect health outcomes. The six major categories are:

  1. Economic stability: employment, medical bills, debt, expenses, etc.
  2. Neighborhood and physical environment: housing, transportation, walkability, playgrounds, etc.
  3. Education: literacy, language, early childhood education, etc.
  4. Food: hunger, access to healthy options, etc.
  5. Community and social context: social integration, racism, discrimination, social support systems, etc.
  6. The healthcare system.

You might think that we live in a very equally opportunistic country, but I can assure you this is false. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation provides us with a more in depth explanation of how this might be. But, YOU CAN help improve this as an NCPTA member by providing access and resources your students might not be able to get at home. Assume all children are at risk. Focus on a few of these social determinants in your school to improve health equity.

FOOD

  • Advocate for school lunches to be highly nutritious (whole foods vs. processed foods).
  • For the students receiving free lunches, connect with community partners, like Backpack Buddies and Mobile Meals to make sure students are receiving nutritious meals on the weekends and in the summers. Click here for additional information and programs which can assist students in North Carolina.
  • During fundraising or other school events/celebrations, ditch the pizza and ice cream. Instead, try celebrating with different ethnic themed cuisines and healthy ingredients (this also celebrates cultural diversity). Examples could be taco buffets, Greek salads, Indian curry, or Italian spaghetti with zucchini spirals for pasta. Ingredients could be donated and sponsored by local restaurants/grocers.
  • Provide education on how to create healthy meals on a small budget and/or without parental guidance.
  • Create and maintain a school community garden. This would assure students healthy food they could take home and cook. Buncombe County schools partner with FEAST (Fresh, Easy, Affordable, Sustainable, and Tasty) who incorporates classroom time dedicated to learning how to grow and cook your own food.

COMMUNITY AND SOCIAL CONTEXT

  • Connect with organizations, like Big Brothers Big Sisters or other student mentoring organizations, to offer support which hones in on developmental assets and/or assisting in helping prepare students who need an extra hand with homework.
  • Pair up every student with either a counselor/volunteer/teacher’s assistant/parent, etc. to check in throughout the semester to make sure students are able to get forms filled out, attain college prep and/or career literacy, able to meet registration deadlines (like driver’s education), ability to pay, being heard about any at-home obstacles students may be facing that may inhibit access to healthy living/learning opportunities. This can also act as assessment that could provide data to help receive funding for additional resources for students. We cannot assume every child has someone they can count on at home.
  • Require classes which prepare students for real life that emphasizes on professionalism and taking the initiative; for example, public speaking and career prep.

NEIGHBORHOOD AND PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT

  • Require physical education classes every semester until graduation.
  • Incorporate physical activity in classroom learning.
  • Advocate for open use agreements allowing school facilities to be used by the community during non-school hours.
  • Advocate for secure, safe parks/green spaces to be built in lower-income/rural/urban neighborhoods.

Change isn’t going to happen globally or nationally overnight, but know that change will happen more rapidly and effectively if implemented on a local scale. This means you can be successful. Partner with community organizations and resources, make your team grow, be the role models, and set the example of how society can improve the future for our children and country. Strive to create access for all.