The vast majority of parents want schools to limit students’ access to high-calorie chips, sodas and candy and to offer them opportunities for physical activity throughout the day, a new survey by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation shows. The national survey, released today, signals the breadth of parents’ support for changes to make schools healthier places—and their willingness to help make those changes happen. In fact, nearly eight in 10 parents are ready to get more involved to create a healthier environment in their local schools.
Conducted for the Alliance by KRC Research, the survey found that more than 92 percent of parents consider physical education and health education as important as English, math and science instruction. Furthermore, 96 percent of parents believe that physical activity can boost their children’s classroom performance, and virtually all parents (99 percent) recognize that healthy eating also has a positive effect on learning.
The results indicate parents’ increasing awareness of the impact schools can have on student health. The survey also suggests widespread parental concern over the cuts many school systems have made in physical education and recess, often the unfortunate result of budget difficulties and standardized testing pressures.
“Schools across the country are trying their best to provide healthier environments for students, but they are working against significant time and resource constraints,” said Ginny Ehrlich, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. “What is exciting about the results of this survey is that not only do parents understand how important nutrition and physical activity are to the academic success of their children, but they are overwhelmingly willing to step up and be a part of the solution.”
Among the key findings from the online survey of 600 parents of children in grades K-12:
- Parents nearly unanimously agree (98 percent) that their child’s school should offer opportunities for physical activity throughout the day, whether through P.E., activity breaks or recess and afterschool programs.
- Almost as many parents (96 percent) agree that their child’s school should limit access to unhealthy snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages.
- About two-thirds of parents (63 percent) believe schools play a major role in instilling healthy habits in students.
- Four-fifths of parents have undertaken one or more health-related activity or advocacy effort in their local schools. Those include bringing nutritious foods to school parties or other events and pushing for healthier lunch menus or expanded health education for students.
”Parents get the connection between healthy schools, healthy students and academic achievement,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). “They know that most school environments need to be improved, and it’s incredibly encouraging that they stand ready to help make the changes necessary.”
The results of the Alliance survey follow recent research findings that students who are healthy and physically active are more likely to be motivated, attentive and successful academically. In particular, studies have linked P.E. programs to stronger academic performance, increased concentration and higher math, reading and writing test scores.
Yet data from the 2006 federal School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS) shows that nearly one-third of elementary schools do not schedule recess on a regular basis, and almost one in four children in elementary grades do not participate in any free-time physical activity during school hours. Only half of high school students have at least one P.E. class weekly.
By contrast, progress has been made on the nutrition front. Based on SHPPS data from 2002 to 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that fewer secondary schools now allow students to buy candy or higher-fat salty snacks. And in 34 states studied, there was a significant increase between 2006 and 2008 in the percentage of schools where students could not purchase sodas.
Through its Healthy Schools Program, which is supported by RWJF funding, the Alliance offers support to schools that want to become healthier places for students to learn and staff to work. Any concerned parent can help his or her child’s school achieve this goal by joining the Healthy Schools Network at no charge by going to www.HealthierGeneration.org. The Alliance has seen the critical role that parents can play and recommends three steps for those who want to get started:
- Ask how the school is working to become healthier. Ask to see its wellness policy. Does it have a wellness council? What is that council working on? Consider joining to show your support.
- Take time to check out the cafeteria and the items sold in any vending machines. Ask if students get daily activity or P.E.—and how long it lasts. Identify your areas of concern and consider bringing these issues to the wellness council or other school leadership.
- Join the Healthy Schools Network at www.HealthierGeneration.org for tools, tips and resources for creating a healthier school environment.
To view the full survey findings online, go to www.HealthierGeneration.org.
About the Alliance for a Healthier Generation
The American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation joined forces in May of 2005 to create a healthier generation by addressing one of the nation’s leading public health threats—childhood obesity. The goal of the Alliance is to reduce the nationwide prevalence of childhood obesity by 2015, and to empower kids nationwide to make healthy lifestyle choices. The Alliance works to positively affect the places that can make a difference to a child’s health: homes, schools, restaurants, doctor’s offices and communities. For more information please visit: HealthierGeneration.org.
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves.