What is Comprehensive School Health?
Comprehensive School Health

Comprehensive school health is an internationally recognized framework for supporting improvements in students' educational outcomes while addressing school health in a planned, integrated and holistic way.

The comprehensive school health (CSH) framework helps educators, health practitioners, school staff, students and others work together to create an environment that makes their school the best place possible to learn, work and play. The CSH framework is the foundation of the Manitoba’s Healthy Schools approach.

Comprehensive School Health:

  • recognizes that healthy young people learn better and achieve more
  • understands that schools can directly influence students’ health and behaviours
  • encourages healthy lifestyle choices, and promotes students’ health and wellbeing
  • incorporates health into all aspects of school and learning
  • links health and education issues and systems
  • needs the participation and support of families and the community at large

The CSH framework is not limited to the classroom. It addresses the whole school environment with actions in four interrelated pillars that provide a strong foundation for healthy schools:

  • social and physical environment
  • teaching and learning
  • partnerships and services
  • healthy school policy

When We Say

We Mean

Social and physical environment

The social environment is the quality of the relationships among and between school staff and students, and the emotional well-being of students. For example, healthy schools have warm and caring relationships among students and staff, and do not tolerate bullying.
The physical environment includes the buildings, grounds, play space, and equipment in and surrounding the school. For example, school facilities and activities are safe and accessible for everyone.

Teaching and learning

Both formal instruction, and informal learning, such as having school staff model healthy behaviours for students.

Partnerships and services

These link the school to the broader community, enhancing the range of supports and opportunities available to students, parents, educators and others

Healthy school policy

Management practices, decision-making processes, rules, procedures and policies at all levels that promote health and wellbeing and shape a respectful, welcoming and caring school environment. They can include everything from guidelines for physical activity and food sales, to rules regarding conduct, to frameworks for engaging community partners.

Working in a holistic or comprehensive way means taking action in all four CSH pillars, rather than in just one. This increases the impact of healthy school initiatives. As a result, students are better supported to realize their full potential as learners – and as healthy, productive members of their community. While this may seem like additional work, it is not. It is a new way of working that soon becomes everyday practice.

What are the Benefits of CSH?

Research shows that health and education are connected. Children and youth can only achieve their fullest potential as learners if their physical, mental, intellectual and emotional health needs are met. For example, students who enjoy nutritious foods and regular physical activity will not only learn better, they're forming healthy habits that will help to support their well-being for a lifetime.

Using the CSH framework is an effective way to tap into the linkage between health and education. Research has shown that it can help schools achieve:

  • better learning outcomes for students;
  • better health and well-being for students, educators and staff;
  • more effective learning and teaching; and
  • a more cooperative and connected school environment.

Where does the idea of CSH come from?

The principles of CSH are drawn from two World Health Organization (WHO) documents: the 1986 Ottawa Charter on Health Promotion, and the 1997 Jakarta Declaration. The Ottawa Charter, a result of the first-ever international conference for health promotion, identified schools as a key setting for health promotion. The Jakarta Declaration, signed at a subsequent conference, reiterated the principles of the Ottawa Charter and emphasized the importance of developing partnerships between different sectors and of combining multiple strategies for health promotion. Both documents have been used to guide the development of school health programs.

By incorporating CSH into everyday practice, healthy schools learn to plan, coordinate and deliver healthy school activities and strategies without adding to workload. As they review and reflect on their progress and improvements to students' health and learning over time, they can better plan future actions. CSH can make a significant difference in the health of students, the school, and the community as a whole.

CSH in Canada

Comprehensive School Health is embraced by schools, school divisions, researchers, governments, and NGO’s across the country, all working with a common goal of improving the education and wellbeing of Canadian children.

The Joint Consortium for School Health has been a champion for CSH in Canada since 2005. This partnership of federal, territorial and provincial governments promotes CSH, facilitates collaboration among Canadian jurisdictions and supports the adoption of healthy school approaches across the country. Manitoba has been an active member of the Consortium since its inception.

Different Terminology, Same Ideas

The terms comprehensive school health and healthy schools are widely used Manitoba and in the rest Canada. Some people in Canada and in other countries use the terms health promoting school or coordinated school health instead. Their framework may have a different number of pillars, or express them in different ways. No matter what name is used, or whether there are three pillars, four or even six, the underlying concepts and focus are the same. All are based on the Ottawa Charter and they all focus on improving the health and education of our children.

For more information about comprehensive school health, please view the video Comprehensive School Health in a Nutshell, and visit the JCSH website.

Sources and Resources

Healthy Schools BC. (2011). Comprehensive School Health. Retrieved Mar 20, 2012.

Healthy Schools BC (Director). (2012). Comprehensive School Health in a Nutshell [Motion Picture]

Hertzman, C., & Power, C. (2005). A Life Course Approach to Health and Human Development. In Healthier Societies: From Analysis to Action (pp. 83-106). New York: Oxford University Press.

Joint Consortium for School Health. What is Comprehensive School Health? Retrieved March 20, 2012.

Stewart-Brown, S. (2006). What is the evidence on school health promotion in improving health or preventing disease and specifically what is the effectivelness of the health promoting schools approach? Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe. Retrieved March 20, 2012, from WHO Regional Office for Europe.

The World Health Organization. Jakarta Declaration on Leading Health Promotion into the 21st Century. Retrieved Mar 20, 2012.

The World Health Organizations. The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. Retrieved Mar 20, 2012.

Healthy Schools is a partnership of:
Health | Education and Early Childhood Learning | Child and Youth Programs