Health and education are deeply interconnected. Put simply, healthy children learn better. The Rudd Center studies how to optimize the school environment to promote health.
Over the past few decades, the availability of unhealthy foods in school environments has increased dramatically. Cafeteria food, vending machines, a la carte cafeteria lines, and school stores have become sources of unhealthy food. When unhealthy foods are present, they compete with the school meal program, and in turn, affect student participation and compromise student health.
Most school children spend a majority of their time at school, and for many children, school provides the only nutritious meal of the day. Schools are in a unique position of influencing large numbers of children, and improving this food environment may be one of the most efficient ways of changing how children eat.
Each local educational agency that participates in the National School Lunch Program or other federal child nutrition programs is required by federal law to establish a local school wellness policy for all schools under its jurisdiction.
Local wellness policies are an important tool for parents, local educational agencies (LEAs) and school districts in promoting student wellness, preventing and reducing childhood obesity, and providing assurance that school meal nutrition guidelines meet the minimum federal school meal standards. On the USDA's website, helpful links and requirements for schools can be found.
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Prior to the pandemic, one in seven American households with children experienced food insecurity, defined as limited access to adequate food due to a lack of money or other resources. From the onset of COVID-19 and the resulting school closures in March 2020, millions of students from food-insecure families who rely on the school meal program were at risk of missing those meals.
After a marked decrease in March, the number of meals served in April and May was comparable to the
number of free and reduced-price meals served during the same months in 2019. In total, districts provided over 11 million meals to students between mid-March and June, reaching a high of 3.8 million meals in the month of May alone.