MICHIGAN STATE (US)—Students with access to school-based health centers experience greater satisfaction with their health, more physical activity, and greater consumption of healthy food than students who do not use such centers.

“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,” says Miles McNall, assistant director of the Community Evaluation and Research Collaborative at Michigan State University.

“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 online in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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 behavioral health services.

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

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 says.

“We need to analyze the frequency of center use, types of services offered and their relationship to both self-reported and documented health outcomes.”

The project was funded primarily by the Michigan Department of Community Health, with additional monies from the Family and Communities Together coalition at MSU.

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