Last Tuesday, the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released the third annual health report study of counties in the United States. For the third time, Marin County topped the list as the healthiest county in California. Having lived in San Rafael for the last four years, this fits my unscientific observations. It’s not uncommon to see bicycle riders, hikers, and others enjoying fitness outdoors or crowds at organic farmers’ markets. At MA, we support these findings through our hundreds of scholar-athletes, our clubs for mountain biking or running, the dozens of Outings we offer each year, our faculty members who bike (or in Liz Gottlieb’s case, Eliptigo) to school each day, and our organic garden and cafe.
However, physical fitness and healthy eating alone do not determine “health.” According to The San Francisco Chronicle, researchers considered more than 30 categories in the study, including smoking and obesity rates, education and income levels, birth weights and access. Not surprisingly, “Wealthier counties with better educated residents fared better than poor, rural areas, where residents often have to travel farther to seek medical care and where more people are uninsured.” This was a trend, but not the rule—San Francisco ranked 24th out of 56, even though it is a wealthy, urban community and the first county in the country to offer all residents access to health care.
But Marin isn’t perfect. Newspapers and blogs have focused on the news that 24% of Marin County residents across all ages report that they engage in occasional or habitual binge drinking, exceeding both the state and national average. Binge drinking is worrisome for all of us, but of special concern for parents or educators of teenagers, as adolescence is the time when many experiment (illegally) with alcohol.
At MA, we’re clear on our school values and our rules for school and school events: alcohol and drugs are not allowed. We take a multi-pronged approach to teaching young people about health, including providing accurate information to encourage wise decision-making, helping students develop the confidence to set boundaries for themselves, and be good friends to others. Through the Human Development curriculum, we provide a safe place for students to talk about health issues as well as legal and social issues.
As a parent of two very young children, I’m (thankfully) years away from having this conversation in my own family, though I have had many discussions with teens during my 30-year career as an educator. I know that an emphasis on safety, health, and family values is crucial to my children’s experience.
In a statement from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, President Risa Lavizzo-Mourey expressed, “The County Health Rankings show us that much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor’s office. In fact, where we live, learn, work and play has a big role in determining how healthy we are and how long we live.”
We take our role in the health and happiness of Marin Academy students very seriously, and will continue to encourage teens to choose the healthy over the harmful.