Health as Curriculum Companion Article

By Senior Fellow, Ashley Smith, MA Political Science.

In a localized healthcare system there needs to be a focus on education that can bring up a new generation of workers that know how to keep themselves “well” and will be sick less often, because of the curriculum localizing healthcare can provide. For example, each regional healthcare system can have a commission of healthcare professionals spanning all four sides of the table to approve the curriculum for their schools.

This curriculum would include three aspects of health: nutrition, physical activity, and social-emotional learning. Each region will be able to decide for themselves what models to implement to aid in the wellness of students covering these three aspects of health. Regions can choose from a variety of groups: private, public, and public-private partnerships to develop programs/curriculums that centers on wellness that school districts can implement. 

There can also be a database of ideas with a scoreboard for the whole country to learn what best policies to implement in areas like theirs. For example, rural regions can learn from other rural regions. 

Nutrition Curriculum 

There are already model programs to teach kids about nutrition in history, science, english, math, and technology classes. California integrates nutrition concepts into a variety of content areas that a student must learn in K-12 schools (Nutrition Services Division, 2017).

For example, in science class a child can learn to identify the chemical compounds in foods, study the growth of plants, and examine the microscopic structure of plant cells and animal fat cells (2017). While in social science, they can learn to research food customs of other countries or historical periods (2017). 

Physical Activity Curriculum

Partners for Healthy Promises (PHP) have a Plan-Develop-Assess (P-D-A) model that utilizes a hybrid “local control with central support” approach, where schools are responsible for the key planning, development & assessment tasks and implementation, but with significant guidance, development and remote & field support by regional and state P-D-A staff (Spoehr, 2020).

For example, when K-12 schools in Arizona adopted their own plan supported by P-D-A staff, students with cardiovascular aerobic fitness in the “Healthy Fitness Zone” (HFZ) increased 4x from the baseline and there was a greater than 6x increase in the percentage  of students with healthier nutrition habits (2020).

For example, “Arizona increased the percentage of fit students from 18% to 78% of all students and reduced childhood obesity across a large Title I K-12 school district” (2020). While other regions will develop physical activity models of education focussed on community service. 

Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum 

Then we have states like Illinois that have passed the Children’s Mental Health Act in which social and emotional development are defined as integral to schools’ mission and essential to students’ academic readiness and school success (Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, 2021).

The act ensures that schools incorporate social and emotional development into the district’s educational program, including assessing social and emotional skills and development of a policy for responding to children with social, emotional, or mental health problems that affect learning (2021).

 This would mean schools would have to develop some sort of policy that would work for them and their kids’ needs. For example, kids’ emotional and mental health needs are different if they are living in big cities vs. rural areas. A focus on a child’s overall social and emotional development could help them create healthy habits and coping mechanisms for a lifetime, saving our society from substance abuse and criminal activity. 


With a focus on a child’s nutrition, physical activity, and mental health each region can decide how to best do so for their areas as decided upon by experts from different sides of the table.

The abundance and thrift sides of the table would like that resources are being allocated based on local communities’ needs and saving money in the long run, where investing a few million now to establish healthier habits will save our nation’s productive capacity and hundreds of billions of needless sickcare costs in the future. Brookings has asked this important question, “Covid-19 is a health crisis so why is health education missing from school work” (Winthrop, 2020)?

The governance and commerce side of the table would like that these curriculum decisions would not be top-down federal standards, but instead models voted, developed, and implemented at the local level (McCluskey, 2010). For example, NACo cites the focus on mental health in improving future employees of corporations and governments, which could save money spent on it later on when the children have already developed healthy coping mechanisms in school (Looker, 2021). Heritage commenting on how a Covid Vaccine shouldn’t be our main priority moving forward, but instead improving our health.

For example, having the “health sector invest in K-12 to help change habits and hold schools accountable, based on health cost savings’ return on investment” (Spoehr, 2020). People might ask how we would fund “health as curriculum,” and Heritage would answer  “It is increasingly obvious that public and private health plans can benefit financially from early, school-based preventive education, especially as we move away from fee-for-service to more health-outcomes-based payment models. As a result of more aligned incentives, health leaders are stepping outside their clinical silos to address the ‘social determinants of health” (Spoehr, 2020). 

  1. Nutrition Services Division, California Department of Education. (2017). Nutrition Education Resource Guide for California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve . Sacramento , California; Department of Education from
  2. Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership. (2021, July 1). Children’s Mental Health Act. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from
  3. Looker, R. (2021, January 5). Florida County’s training educates all employees on Mental Health Issues. NACo. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from
  4. McCluskey, N. (2010). Behind the Curtain Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards. Policy Analysis.
  5. Spoehr, T. (2020, September 10). A covid-19 vaccine won’t save us, but improving our health can. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from
  6. Winthrop, R. (2020, April 7). Covid-19 is a health crisis. so why is health education missing from schoolwork? Brookings. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from



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