School Start Times and Healthy People 2020

The new school year has begun and countless teens nationwide must once again deal with early high school start times and the consequences of sleep deprivation.

Adolescent sleep deprivation has become so pervasive in the United States that sleep researchers and other experts frequently refer to the problem as "epidemic". Now, national decision makers are starting to take notice. The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services recently identified sufficient sleep for students in grades 9-12 as a nationwide health improvement priority by including it as an objective in Healthy People 2020. The new objective is based on data generated by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System which monitors health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults.

What is Healthy People? It is a published set of goals and objectives designed to guide national health promotion and disease prevention efforts to improve the health of people in the United States. The most recent iteration of this important science-based document is Healthy People 2020. It was developed under the guidance of experts from federal agencies such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health. As with previous versions, Healthy People 2020 serves as an essential guide for public health officials, policy makers, health educators, and healthcare providers nationwide.

The fact that there now is a Healthy People objective specific to sufficient sleep for high school students should deeply concern every parent living in a district with an early high school start time. It should also raise red flags for local policy makers and motivate them to acknowledge the correlation between early school start times and sleep loss in adolescents. Disregarding science-based evidence in favor of misinformation, political aspirations, and narrow minded ideologies does nothing to address the real needs of children in a community. Local decision makers need to understand that early start times and sleep loss can profoundly impact a teen's mood, health, safety, and ability to perform academically. The Healthy People objective will help bring these issues into the national consciousness.

As a member of Start School Later, I'm gratified to see that discussions on this issue are beginning to take place nationally. early high school start times will never prepare the average student for success. early start times are hurting our nation's children.

For more information, please read Start School Later co-founder Dr. Terra Ziporyn Snider's Education Week article. It has background information on the consequences of early high school start times and provides an insightful look at this emerging public health issue.

Dolores Skowronek is health science librarian and on the steering committee of Start School Later.

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