Schools and Obesity Prevention

Creating School Environments and Policies to Promote Health Eating and Physical Activity

This article provides an overview of efforts in schools to address childhood obesity. Schools provide opportunities to increase children's physical activity and improve their food habits.

The authors discuss school policies at the local, state and federal level. The analysis centers around four topics:

  1. Policies and environments related to food in schools.
  2. Policies and environments related to physical activity in schools.
  3. Body mass index measurements in schools.
  4. School wellness policies.

Key Findings:

  • Schools, especially secondary schools, were likely to sell food from vending machines, stores and snack bars. Availability of these competitive (nonschool lunch) foods is linked to higher calorie intake and lower consumption of fruits and vegetables.
  • Physical activity in school does not lower academic performance and can have positive physical, emotional, and social effects on students.
  • Early research suggests that larger school districts and districts with a high proportion of students eligible for free or reduced lunch are more likely to have strong wellness policies.

Schools have begun to improve their food and physical activity policies, but stronger policies are needed to limit children's exposure to unhealthy foods and to increase their physical activity.

This article is part of a special issue on obesity in the March 2009 edition of The Milbank Quarterly available free of charge throughout 2009 at Wiley-Blackwell.