How Healthy Are Arlington Youth?

How Healthy Are Arlington Youth?

How Healthy Are Arlington Youth?
A Look at the Community Report Card

By Kimberly Durand

Last month, the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families released its fourth Community Report Card, a check-up about the health and well-being of Arlington youth. This year’s report takes a close look at important issues impacting health in four areas identified as priorities by the community: bullying, childhood obesity, mental health, and positive family communications. The report shows us that while we’re seeing improvements in some areas, several health issues are stagnant or getting worse.

Take childhood obesity and mental health, for example. In Arlington, 26 percent of our children are already overweight or obese even before they start kindergarten. Their risk for staying obese is higher as a result, as is their risk for developing asthma, joint problems, early onset diabetes, and other problems.

And when it comes to mental health, nearly 30 percent of Arlington 10th and 12th graders (26 percent and 29 percent, respectively) report depressive symptoms, such as persistent and disruptive feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past month. These numbers have remained steady since 2007, and the number of youth attempting suicide has increased. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15-19 years.

Over the years, Arlington has taken important steps to provide more support for our children. In the past, Arlington County Public Schools has provided trainings to help county teachers and counselors identify depressive symptoms in youth. Also, the youth-led Arlington Teen Network Board created Arlington Teens, a website that connects teens around the county and provides a safe forum to discuss important topics, such as physical and emotional issues, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, and social issues like youth violence and AIDS. We believe these programs have really made an impact.

But as a community, we can do more.

The Community Report Card is rich with data that can aid individuals and organizations advocating for new policies and initiatives to combat issues impacting Arlington youth. School and county boards can use it to provide guidance for new obesity and mental health awareness programs. Local nonprofits and agencies can also use these data to help make the case for financial support in future grant applications.

We also need to engage the community as part of the solution. On April 13, the Partnership will host a Community Forum, a meeting of local leaders, government officials, non-profits, and school and county officials from across the region to discuss the four priority areas outlined in the report card, and identify solutions. Past community forums have helped us create effective strategies to help improve health for youth in our region, and we welcome all Arlington residents to participate.

After these meetings, we will provide feedback to the community, schools, and county boards about what we learn so they can decide which solutions work best. We at the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families hope that the Community Report Card and Community Forum can serve as a catalyst for developing more community-driven solutions to children’s health problems.

Kimberly Durand serves as partnership coordinator at the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families. She oversees the Partnership’s efforts and actively participates in all of its committees.

Foundation staff serve on the Partnership’s Assets Committee, which focuses on the strengths of Arlington youth, and will help facilitate the discussion about childhood obesity at the upcoming community forum.