Families can be assured if they live in New Jersey, students are more likely to get topic-focused health and physical education in public middle schools and high schools than they would in other states, a new report finds.

New Jersey had the second highest percentage in the country, nearly 97 percent, of teachers and principals who reported they taught required health education courses in any grade six through 12, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s School Health Profiles report.

“Because young people attend school about six hours a day approximately 180 days per year during a critical period of their development, schools are in a unique position to help improve the health status of children and adolescents nationwide,” CDC experts stated.

The newest report, released earlier this month, gives compiled and analyzed survey results from teachers and principals in 46 states, which included more than 480 New Jersey educators.

Report highlights included New Jersey doing better than most other states in teaching students a complete range of sexual education topics, nutrition and dietary behavior education and physical activity topics.

Nearly 95 percent of New Jersey respondents said they taught a health education course to sixth-graders, whereas only 6.2 percent of Nevada respondents reported doing so. All New Jersey educators said their schools taught a health course to ninth-graders, the highest rate of all other states.

Because rates of sexually transmitted infections are growing nationwide, report experts stated sexual health education can be key in preventing negative outcomes among teens.

The CDC announced in September rates of sexually transmitted diseases and infections hit another record high in 2016, and New Jersey Department of Health officials established several campaigns and services in recent years to tackle the state’s rising rates.

Half of newly diagnosed infections each year involve people ages 15 to 24, the CDC says.

The School Health Profiles report showed about 90 percent of surveyed New Jersey teachers and principals said their schools taught STD prevention to students — among the top 10 states that reported doing so.

New Jersey also was among the few states that had almost all respondents say they taught abstinence and how students could access information, products and services related to HIV, STDs and pregnancy in middle school.

Though state curriculum requires such courses, some local schools have identified opportunities to provide extra sexual health education.

When Chartertech High School nurse Kim Ventriglia took note of the increasing questions, concerns and false rumors among students about sexual health topics in the 2016 school year, Vice Principal Adrienne Breitinger encouraged her to reach out to Shore Medical Center in Somers Point for help.

Tricia Brereton-Moore, a registered nurse at the hospital, came to the school weekly to provide additional sexual health education.

“Some people don’t want you talking to their kids about sex. It’s sometimes considered taboo,” Breitinger told The Press in May. “But it’s a really important topic because they’re doing it and they’re uninformed.”

The CDC School Health Profiles report also looked at what schools offered in terms of physical education and nutrition and food options at school.

While responses from New Jersey educators fell within average ranges compared with other states, about 25 percent of respondents said students could purchase ice cream, classified as a non-nutritious item, at school — the highest rate in the country.

The state’s high rates in positive health opportunities, information and education were reflected in the professional education background of its educators.

According to the report, nearly 99 percent of those surveyed in New Jersey said their school had a full-time registered nurse, the highest rate in the nation. It also showed a higher rate of lead health educators having a background in both health and physical education and being certified to teach health education.

Report experts said educating and health agencies have used the biennial survey results to describe school health policies and practices, identify professional development needs, plan and monitor programs, support health-related legislation and seek funding.

To learn more about the 2016 School Health Profiles report, visit cdc.gov/healthyyouth.

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Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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