School District Wellness Policies: Evaluating Progress and Potential for Improving Children’s Health Three Years After the Federal Mandate

Recognizing that the structure of a school environment, coupled with widespread national participation in school-based nutrition programs, could be used to promote healthy living habits, Congress passed the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 setting specific wellness policies for  districts where students partake in the programs. This report uses data from the intervening academic years – 2006 through 2009 – to evaluate the effectiveness of mandated wellness policies in maintaining a healthy student body.

The wellness policies include specific guidelines for food and beverage consumption, levels of physical activity, and nutrition education. Though the majority of school districts implemented some of the policies, most districts were still not “fully compliant” with the federal requirements by the 2008-2009 school year, according to the report. By that year, 99 percent of students were attending school in a district with a wellness policy, but only 61 percent of those districts had fully implemented each policy requirement. Guidelines for competitive food consumption, defined as “food and beverages consumed outside of a school meal program,” were the least well-implemented.

With reauthorizations looming for the Child Nutrition Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the authors make recommendations for fulfilling all the policy requirements. The authors suggest more emphasis on upholding nutritional standards for school meals and limiting competitive food and beverage vendor advertising at school. Another way to increase implementation of the policies is to give more attention to the creation of educational programs and to the promotion of training opportunities for food service and physical education staff.

Tables detailing the competitive food and beverage policies and the success of wellness policies accompany the report. Data is given separately for elementary, middle, and high schools.


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