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Addressing Rural Health Disparities through a Whole Child Approach

Rural communities experience significant disparities in health outcomes, due in part to a lack of resources to support the development of knowledge and skills early in life around nutrition, social-emotional competency, oral hygiene, tobacco use avoidance, and regular physical activity. Research shows that up to 80% of a child’s health and wellbeing is linked to these social determinants of health! But, schools that take a “Whole Child” approach to education can have a positive and lasting impact on these determinants.

“Whole Child wellness represents a common cause between educators and public health professionals—a shared paradigm embracing the vision that health education not only improves health; it improves education.”  – When Are We Going to Teach Health? (Van Dusen, 2020)

CATCH has found that coordinating a campus around a Whole Child approach to wellness provides a foundation upon which all physical and mental well-being programs and initiatives can thrive. It is well documented that healthy kids are better learners and that social and emotional skills lead to better academic and life outcomes. Our model for addressing social determinants of health has three components:

Tools and Support for Rural Schools

See CATCH in Algonac Community Schools (MI)

CATCH offers a variety of programs, training, and support to help schools in rural communities create environments that encourage, promote, and support healthy choices for life. Through our robust online platform and virtual training & technical support, we are able to bring evidence-based resources to communities in a manner that is both effective and cost-efficient.

Our evidence-based programs are accessed via the platform and provide teachers with all of the tools they need to deliver health lessons in the classroom or gym. CATCH also offers a variety of trainings – delivered virtually or in-person – to orient educators to the materials and provide best practices for program delivery. Our trainings are informative and fun and have been shown to significantly improve overall effectiveness.

Campuses or districts interested in a more hands-on approach can take advantage of our Whole Child Guided Journey, which provides multiple trainings and touch-points throughout the year to help school wellness leaders and teams develop the knowledge, skills, confidence, and ability to effectively lead coordinated whole child programming across the entire school campus using the evidence-based CATCH framework.

Nutrition and Health Education

Overall, the prevalence of obesity is significantly higher among individuals living in rural communities versus those living in urban communities.

CATCH’s evidence-based health curriculum has been shown to drive healthy behavior changes that persist 3 years post-implementation. The program teaches kids the basics of proper nutrition and energy balance, develops their skills for making healthy choices at school through environmental changes (e.g. GO, SLOW, WHOA food labeling in the cafeteria), and reinforces healthy habits through social support and encouragement from teachers and peers.

Physical Education

The percentage of adults in rural communities who meet the CDC’s daily physical activity guidelines is 19.6% compared to 25.3% in urban communities.

CATCH’s quality Physical Education program is developmentally appropriate, inclusive, varied, and fun. It has been proven to increase physical activity time during P.E. class and kids’ overall amount of daily physical activity. The program emphasizes physical activity, physical fitness, and motor-skills development, in order to develop skills and habits that can persist for a lifetime.


Mental Health

Rates of parent-reported mental health issues among kids are higher in rural communities (18.6%) than in urban areas (15.2%).

CATCH’s SEL Journeys provides age-differentiated lessons aligned to the CASEL Framework for Systemic Social and Emotional Learning. The program uses movement, dance, and cultural learning to teach and reinforce SEL concepts via a highly engaging digital platform.


Oral Health

Children living in rural communities were more likely to have their teeth condition reported as fair or poor than those in urban communities. Kids with poor oral health are 3x more likely to miss school and 2x more likely to perform poorly.

CATCH Healthy Smiles is a program for grades K-2 that is designed to improve the oral health of students by teaching about and encouraging proper toothbrushing and flossing techniques, a nutritious diet, and regular visits to a dentist.


Tobacco & Vaping Prevention

Middle and high school students living in rural communities use e-cigarettes at higher rates than their urban counterparts.

CATCH My Breath’s peer-led teaching approach empowers students with the knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions about e-cigarettes and resist social pressures to vape. Informed by tobacco prevention researchers and practitioners, years of real world implementation, and a youth advisory board, it is the only school-based vaping prevention program proven to reduce the likelihood of vaping among youth.

Want to learn more?

Set up a consultation with one of our community coordinators by emailing us at [email protected]

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