PSHE: The Missing Link

17/07/2015 13:49 BST | Updated 17/07/2016 10:59 BST

Health leaders are missing a trick. Children have remarkable capacity for picking up habits and learning new skills, but for some reason health policy does not take advantage of this. By teaching the young how to take care of themselves, we could have an incredible impact on the health of the future adult population, but we need to take action if we are to reap these rewards.

The UK is shockingly behind other developed countries in terms of children's health outcomes, with five more children dying per day than in Sweden. So many health issues facing our children are preventable - yet the Government has just cut £200 million from public health spending and with it many of the resources we need to educate children about their health.

Something needs to be done.

Caroline Lucas is one of few people determined to take on the challenge. Her Bill to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) compulsory is a much needed step towards reforming our children's health and wellbeing.

True, PSHE does exist in our education system, but until it becomes a compulsory part of the curriculum it is vulnerable to huge variation. An Ofsted report from 2013 found PSHE inadequate in 40% of schools, not including those that do not offer it at all, leaving huge proportions of children without essential life skills come adulthood.

The value of PSHE isn't hard to see. Take one of the UK's most serious health issues: obesity. One in three children in the UK is now overweight, and one in five obese - greatly down to a lack of education on how to eat, and live, healthily. The sooner children learn to adopt healthy ways of life, the more likely they are to carry these habits in adulthood - and the less likely they are to suffer the painful consequences of obesity. New ideas and eating habits can also rub off on other members of the household, leading to healthier families all round.

PSHE also has the potential to help tackle the growing problem of children's mental health. The Mental Health Foundation estimates that a fifth of children experience mental health issues in any given year while recent evidence has suggested that half of all mental health disorders begin before the age of 15.

The repercussions of waiting for adulthood for treatment can be catastrophic. PSHE provides a platform to educate children and young people about mental troubles and the support available, but only structured, regular teaching has the potential to build understanding and resilience.

PSHE plays a vital role too in providing sex education. Children are exposed to sexual issues at an earlier and earlier age due to its increasing prevalence in popular culture, whilst sexual exploitation remains a troubling presence in today's society. With such conflicting messages coming at them from all sides, young people need to be prepared to interpret these issues, but what should be a vital element of education is slipping between the cracks.

School nurses help pupils with these issues every day and can play an instrumental role in the implementation of PSHE, working in partnership with teachers and education staff to truly help children and young people deal with the intricacies of modern life.

We can only hope the government takes on board the absolute necessity of this type of education. Only then will children have the skills to prosper in adulthood, so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of a healthier population.