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Should high schools across Canada send home health report cards?

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Students at St. Stephen High School in New Brunswick review their health report cards. (CBC)

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An increasingly healthy student body at St. Stephen High School in New Brunswick is capturing the attention of observers outside the school, and even beyond the province.

It has been five months since the latest group of Grade 10 students were handed health report cards in white envelopes.

 A St. Stephen's student undergoes a health test. (CBC) Instead of evaluating the teens in traditional subjects like English, math and science, the reports tracked their improvement using health indicators like body mass index (BMI) and resting heart rate.

The total cost of the most recent tests - which measured the students' blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and BMI - was around $3,000. Supporters say that price tag is far smaller than potential future costs to the provincial health care system if teens are not encouraged to develop healthier lifestyles.

CBC health reporter Pauline Dakin, who has been monitoring the project for several months, recently visited the school to check up on the program's participants.

A wake-up call

Elicia Baxter, a student whose blood sugar and BMI had been too high, is among those who were motivated to make a change.

"I have way more energy than before. I sleep better. I feel excellent. I'm doing better in school," she told Dakin, adding that the numbers she saw on her report card were a wake-up call.

'I have way more energy than before. I sleep better. I feel excellent. I'm doing better in school.'

-- Elicia Baxter, St. Stephen's student
"They made me realize I had to change my life, for sure."

Baxter's family members said the teen's report card opened up a household dialogue about everything from portion sizes to how much television they were watching.

But Yvonne Bartlett, a school nurse helping champion the program, said there's still progress to be made.

"Three quarters of these students still have at least one or more risk factors for coronary heart disease, so we still have a lot of work to do."

An ounce of prevention

Dakin also reported an improvement in high-risk kids who started out struggling to run a lap. They were given follow-up guidance from dieticians and personal trainers, and a daily first-period fitness class.

Now those same students can run for 15 minutes straight.

 A student reviews his health report card. (CBC) "I've gained over 12 pounds of muscle since last semester to now and I feel more full of energy all the time," one male student told Dakin.

"I just feel good about myself."

Bartlett also noted a difference in health indicators and risk factors beyond weight loss, like positive changes in cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and resting heart rates.

She believes there is now enough data now to take the St. Stephen's project to higher levels.

What do you think of this approach to improving high school students' health? Are health report cards a good idea?

Should other schools adopt this kind of program?

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