Encouraging Healthy Lifestyles

Practical Ideas for Educators

Modeling Healthy Behaviors

Educators need to be concerned about student health because health problems can reduce students' desire to learn as well as their academic success (Basch, 2010). Even if you don't teach health, nutrition, or related topics, you can be a role model for how to live a healthy lifestyle. Below are some practical ideas for how educators can model healthy behaviors from the Michigan Nutrition Standards (2012):
  • Coach a school or community sports team.
  • Watch school sports games and let students know that you are there.
  • Discuss physical activities that you enjoy participating in.
  • Keep a water bottle with you in the classroom and drink from it throughout the day.
  • Eat healthy foods, such as fruit, for snacks and lunch.
  • Allow time for short movement breaks during longer classes.
  • Hang up posters in the hallways or classrooms to remind students about healthy daily habits, such as eating breakfast.

Physical Activity at School

Regular physical activity can help to improve students' physical, emotional, and mental health. Children who are physically active are less likely to be overweight and are more likely to have strong bones. However, only about one third of high school students in the United States participate in an hour of physical activity 5 days per week, which is the recommended amount (Basch, 2010).

In addition to improving students' health, regular physical activity can actually improve students' academic achievement. For example, physical activity increases students' ability to concentrate. Also, physical activity can help students to be happier and more confident, which can help to improve their academic performance (California After School Resource Center).

Incorporating physical activity into the regular school day can help students to get the recommended amount of physical activity, which can help to improve their academic achievement and overall well-being . Here are some ideas from the California After School Resource Center for helping students to be more active at school:
  • Begin the school day with a short, active icebreaker that engages students.
  • Include quick movement breaks during classes that are longer than 50 minutes.
  • Incorporate active academic games into lessons when appropriate.
  • Use teaching strategies that incorporate movement, such as a carousel activator or summarizer activity.

Food Insecurity and Hunger

What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity means that individuals or families have limited or inconsistent access to food that is safe and provides adequate nutrition (Center on Hunger and Poverty).

What is hunger?
Hunger means an uncomfortable feeling that is caused by a repeated shortage of food. Hunger can result from food insecurity and can lead to malnutrition (Center on Hunger and Poverty).

How do food insecurity and hunger affect students?
Food insecurity increases a child's risk of health problems, obesity, and nutritional deficiencies. Children struggling with food insecurity may also display aggressive or hyperactive behavior and may struggle academically (Hunger Free Vermont, 2014).

How can educators help students and families who are struggling with food insecurity and hunger?
Educators can give students and families information and applications for free or reduced price school meals, refer students/families to school and community resources, and use teaching strategies that provide students with academic and behavioral support.
For examples of programs, such as school meals and cooking classes, that are designed to reduce hunger see the Hunger Free Vermont website at http://www.hungerfreevt.org/what/school-meals.

Benefits of School Gardens

School gardens can help to improve student health and provide opportunities to connect the curriculum to students' lives. Reasons that schools should consider installing gardens include:
  • Encourage healthy eating to improve students' health: According to multiple studies, children may eat a greater variety of fruits and vegetables if they have several experiences with those foods. School gardens provide these opportunities for increased exposure to healthy foods (Grayson, 2011).
  • Provides opportunities for engaging, relevant lessons: Most students love to go outside for class. School gardens could provide a great location for hands-on, outdoor lessons. For example, in science class students could do experiments to find the methods that produce the best quality fruits and vegetables.

What can schools without the space or resources to create school gardens do?

These schools could partner with a local farm or community garden to allow students to get the same benefits and also serve the community at the same time. An example of a non-profit organization in Massachusetts that offers service learning opportunities, provides healthy food to local organizations, and provides summer employment at their farms for teenagers is The Food Project. A picture of local food from their website is shown below. Visit the Food Project's website at http://thefoodproject.org/about for more information.

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Comments from Colleagues

I’ve never taken the time to think about my influence on our students’ lifestyle. Thanks to Andrea’s newsletter I’ve become more aware of my influence on the students’ lifestyle and I will begin to live more healthily myself. I will also begin to extend an invitation for the students to attend our staff afternoon workouts so that we can better their lifestyle. -Alfred, AmeriCorps volunteer

The project looks great. I learned that movement breaks during class should be planned in and encouraged. –Tom, biology teacher

Food insecurity is a big problem for low income students, and definitely interferes with their learning. I encourage students to take advantage of the free breakfast and free lunches at school. –Sallie, ESL teacher

I coached the girls’ soccer team at my school, and have run health conscious summer programs, as well. However, I’ve never really thought about how a soda sitting on my desk after lunch, instead of a water bottle, might negatively influence my students. Very informative newsletter! Jackie, SEI math teacher

I had never heard the term "food insecurity" before but I see how not knowing where your meals will be coming from could create insecurity and stress for a student. It's an awful thing to go hungry. Mike, biology teacher


Basch, C. E. (2010). Healthier students are better learners: A missing link in school reforms to close the achievement gap. Retrieved from http://www.equitycampaign.org/i/a/document/12557_equitymattersvol6_web03082010.pdf.

California After School Resource Center. Learning in motion.Retrieved from http://casrc-chkrcetrainings.org/newlook/trainings/LIM/LIM_FINAL.pdf.

Center on Hunger and Poverty and Food Research and Action Center. The paradox of hunger and obesity in America. Retrieved from http://www.nufs.sjsu.edu/clariebh/Hunger%20and%20Obesity.pdf.

The Food Project. (2015). About us. Retrieved from http://thefoodproject.org/about.

Grayson, A. (2011). Part I: An integrated approach to school food change. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/27858569.

Hunger Free Vermont. (2014). Vermont hunger facts. Retrieved from http://www.hungerfreevt.org/learn/what-is-the-issue.

Michigan Nutrition Standards. (2012). Weekly ways school staff can be healthy role models. Retrieved from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdch/27._Weekly_Ways_School_Staff_Can_be_Healthy_Role_Models_392984_7.pdf.

Andrea Metayer

December 2015
Promoting Healthy Lifestyles Among Students
University of Massachusetts Lowell