A couple months ago I wrote about my interest in the school start time debate. As I stated then, my interest in the debate is watching how large systems, like school districts, respond to the needs of the people they are designed to serve: students, especially when those needs are supported by overwhelming scientific evidence.
Well, recently the debate took a new turn when the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement recommending that middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 am or later. The statement was covered by the Washington Post, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and many other national news outlets, elevating the issue to a whole new level within the public dialogue.
The lead author of the policy statement, Dr. Judith Owens, declares, “Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common–and easily fixable–public health issues in the U.S. today.”
Framing school start times as a public health issue is a new lens through which to view this debate. Having pediatricians be an expert voice and advocate adds new emphasis. It squarely shifts the school start time conversation from being framed only as an education issue to being an education and a health issue, which broadens the spectrum of stakeholders and experts that are called to get involved in the work. And this isn’t the only issue that is seeing this kind of shift–just last week, the Army launched a new initiative to combat childhood obesity because of its effects on the recruiting pool.
Expanding the frame on health issues and broadening the kinds of expert voices that can speak to them is something we have been thinking a lot about at CCMU. In fact, we have invited one of the nation’s leading thinkers on this issue, Liz Baxter of the Oregon Public Health Institute (OPHI), to join us as our keynote speaker for our Annual Luncheon, Health is Connected, on September 23.
Not only is Ms. Baxter a talented speaker, but the way she and OPHI frame their work is a great model for a multi-sector approach. In addition to their work promoting health equity and providing leadership on policy issues, they strive to “bring health into multiple conversations.” To do this, they “reframe the understanding of what creates our health and bring credible expertise and information that makes health a consideration in multi-sector decision-making.” OPHI understands that health is connected to every part of our civic and social infrastructure, and it will take a community of leaders, across all sectors, to drive health systems change.
At CCMU, we look forward to learning from Ms. Baxter’s experiences in Oregon and her ideas and vision for the whole country. We see great potential in Colorado for collaboration with diverse partners to expand the frame on health and health disparities, make room for new expert voices, and to create opportunities and eliminate barriers to good health across the state. We hope you–and your colleagues from other sectors–will join us to begin the conversation.