Accelify Blog

School-based Health Centers Get Students to Eat Better, Exercise More (MI)

July 27, 2010

Students with access to school-based health centers experienced greater satisfaction with their health, more physical activity and greater consumption of healthy food than students who did not use such centers, according to a Michigan State University study.

Miles McNall of MSU’s Department of Outreach and Engagement led a team of researchers examining the effects of school-based health centers – clinical health centers providing on-site primary health care – on the health and behaviors of middle and high school students in Michigan.

"Our results indicate that the use of these centers is associated with increased physical activity, which counteracts the rising trend of obesity among children and adolescents," McNall said. "The findings highlight the importance of efforts to promote parental awareness of such centers and students’ use of them as ways to enhance these potential benefits."

The research appears in the September 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health and is available now online at www.ajph.org. The project was funded primarily by the Michigan Department of Community Health, with additional monies from the Family and Communities Together coalition at MSU.

There are 57 state-funded school-based health centers operating in 24 Michigan counties. The centers target uninsured and under-insured children ages 5-10 and all youth ages 10 to 21, seeking to increase access to quality primary care and be havioral health services.

"The simplest way to describe school-based health centers is they are like having a doctor’s office in a school," McNall said. "Nearly all of the health care services one would ordinarily expect from one’s primary care physician are provided in the centers."

The Michigan Department of Community Health, which operates the state’s centers via its Child and Adolescent Health Center Program, asked McNall to evaluate their effectiveness. He worked with stakeholders – state officials, health care system representatives, health center directors and advocacy groups – to identify which aspects to measure.

McNall’s team compiled data on the centers from student self-reports for two years beginning with the 2006-2007 school year. Middle and high school students were recruited from similar schools with and without school-based health centers; 744 students participated in the study.

"While the findings indicate that school-based health centers are achieving their goal of promoting children’s health, further research is needed to figure out why," McNall said. "We need to analyze the frequency of center use, types of services offered and their relationship to both self-reported and documented health outcomes."

A final report to be delivered to the state Department of Community Health is being prepared now, McNall said, that will include all three years of the study. Besides health outcomes, it also will focus on the centers’ effects on school attendance and health care costs.