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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Local district wellness policies are designed to ensure that schools support student health by providing a healthy nutrition environment and opportunities for physical activity. The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) developed a 5-year initiative to strengthen wellness policies across their state by offering regional wellness workshops and providing coaches to work with individual districts. KSDE also developed the Wellness Impact Tool (WIT), a self-report measure districts use to document their practices at each school level related to Nutrition, Nutrition Promotion, Physical Activity, and Integrated School-Based Wellness.
The findings indicate that district WIT scores increased over the 5-year initiative. Overall, high schools scored higher than elementary or middle schools on Nutrition items, and elementary schools scored higher than other school levels in the domains of Nutrition Promotion, Physical Activity, and Integrated School-Based Wellness.