Michelle Obama, Panelists Promote Community Health at CBCF Conference

First Lady Michelle Obama urged neighborhoods to make way for a healthy present in order to have a healthy future during her address Wednesday at the 40th Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in Washington.

“We know if we want healthy kids, we must have healthy communities,” Obama said.

The first lady spoke during a panel session on “The ABCs of Healthy Student Learning: Addressing Disparities in Academic Achievement and Health.” The session was the first in the CBCF Alumni Series. The series is a new initiative in which CBCF Fellows and alumni call attention to imperative issues that impact blacks.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced recently that it will distribute 31 million new grants among 11 communities in the country, Obama said in excitement. The grants are titled “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” and are set to combat childhood obesity and develop healthier neighborhoods.

“The last thing our kids need is lip service,” said Obama, referring to the need for action with results, something more than all talk.

Obama launched the Let’s Move! campaign as a fight against childhood obesity in February.

“Childhood obesity isn’t some simple discrete issue,” she said. “There’s no one cause we can pinpoint. There’s no one program we can fund to make it go away.”

She noted plans to help eliminate food deserts, to encourage more local farmer markets with organic foods and to promote early breastfeeding.

Panelists also emphasized the importance of the link between education and health. School-based health centers were a hot topic during the forum. School-based health centers are partnerships created by schools and community health organizations to provide on-site medical, mental and oral health services to advocate for educational success, including health literacy, according to the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care (NASBHC). The centers are a component of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law in March.

“It is no surprise that students perform better when they are healthy,” said Camille Seally, former middle school teacher and a current majority staffer of the House’s Committee on Energy and Commerce. “I know all to well that my students had a hard time paying attention when they had a headache or cold. To be quite honest, my students didn’t really listen to me when they were healthy, but they definitely didn’t listen when they were sick.”

The school-based health center initiative is effective especially for the “medically underserved and adolescents that may not have access to a traditional primary-care provider,” Sealy explained.

Linda Juszczak, executive director of the NASBHC, reiterated the concept of partnership. She said there is a difference between a center and a school nurse, but both entities are “collaborative, not competitive.”

The school health centers provide services including primary, oral and mental care, prescription management, and public and private insurance billing reimbursements. Nurses can administer medication and focus more on screening students for learning barriers and leading health education programs, according to Juszczak.

The centers are fewer in countryside neighborhoods.

There are 2,000 school-based health centers, of which 27 percent are in rural areas and the remaining 73 percent are in urban or suburban communities, Juszczak said. California, Texas, New York and Florida each contain more than 100 centers.