In just four years, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program has become a major force in transforming campuses across the country—from the foods they sell in their cafeterias and vending machines to the games that are played on their blacktops to the classroom lessons that get their students up and moving. More than 9,000 schools now receive a breadth of assistance, either through on-line or in-person support, as they aim to meet the rigorous nutrition and physical activity criteria that are the program’s hallmark.
And every summer, an increasing number of schools are recognized for their achievements. More than 350 schools have received bronze or silver awards, and in 2010 a New Jersey high school became the first to earn gold distinction. Many of these schools serve diverse student bodies that come from communities most affected by the childhood obesity epidemic. “At these schools,” notes Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., RWJF president and CEO, “tough budget times and other challenges are no match for the commitment and creativity of administrators, teachers, parents and students.”
The Alliance, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, created the Healthy Schools Program to help schools develop and implement policies and practices that promote healthy eating and increased physical activity for students and staff. RWJF has supported the initiative since its inception and in 2007 announced a $20 million expansion that allowed more intense focus on states with the highest obesity rates, including: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Any U.S. school can enroll and receive free assistance and support through the program. Staff as well as students are the beneficiaries. Says Ginny Ehrlich, the Alliance’s executive director, “It is clear that the momentum is building.”