Schools can play an important role in promoting both human health and environmentally aware young people. This review examined how schools are using integrated approaches to accomplish these two goals.
Papers included in this review are drawn from both the academic literature (papers published in peer-reviewed journals) and materials produced outside of the traditional academic publishing channels (such as reports and policy statements). Included papers focused on mainstream schools serving children, age 3-18, and were published in English between 1998 and 2018.
Eighty-seven publications met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 75 were research articles, 5 were books, and 7 were other types of publications. Since 1998, there was a steady increase in related publications, and these were primarily from North America, Australasia, and Europe. Africa and South America had the smallest percentage of related literature. Integrated approaches used by schools fell primarily into four categories: teaching and learning; physical environmental adaptations; ecologically informed policy development; and whole-school socio-ecological approaches. Less than half (44%) of the empirical research reported some form of outcome evaluation, with the majority of evaluations being based on self-reported behavioral outcomes. Reported outcomes included (1) perceived higher levels of nutrition in children whose schools cultivated and consumed produce from on-site or community gardens and (2) improvements in children's subjective wellbeing, confidence, and motivation. While these reported outcomes provide some indication of the effectiveness of an integrated approach, a clear understanding of what constitutes evidence is still being debated.
Findings from this review include two key areas of learning: one relating to a global policy focusing on connections between health and sustainability; the other relating to “the fragmented nature of the evidence as a whole and the inconsistent depth and clarity of the explanation of how conceptual frameworks were applied.” This review indicates that integrated approaches used by schools to promote both human health and environmentally aware students are under-explored and that evidence of their effectiveness remain fragmented. This review highlights the need for “systematic evaluation of the evidence in terms of the processes and outcomes of these approaches.”