School Policies and Practices to Improve Health and Prevent Obesity

National Secondary School Survey Results

Data gathered from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Bridging the Gap (BTG) program is highlighted in this report outlining health-related policies and practices in U.S. public middle and high schools.

Results are based on surveys of administrators (mainly school principals) from nationally representative samples from four school years, 2006–07 through 2009–10. This comprehensive report examines foods and beverages offered through the National School Lunch Program and in competitive venues, such as snack bars and á la carte lines. Physical activity, physical education, and wellness policies are also analyzed in detail.

Time trend data gathered over the four years shows positive trends in the availability of some healthier food and beverage options (e.g., lower-fat milks, salads, and whole grains) for students. However, some areas show little to no progress, especially those related to student physical activity. The report also highlights disparities in health-related practices that impact students from different socioeconomic, racial or ethnic groups.

 Key Findings:

  • While the nutrition environment did improve over time, many students still had easy access to unhealthy choices like french fries, candy, chips, cookies, ice cream, and sugary drinks.
  • Over the four years, little progress was made to promote physical activity. Participation in sports and physical activity clubs remained low and physical education requirements for high school students were especially lax.
  • Students in less affluent schools were less likely to attend a school that offered formal nutrition education or one that shares its recreational facilities outside of school hours than their peers in more affluent schools.

The conclusions in this report offer timely guidance on nutrition guidelines and wellness policies. These continuing reports from BTG will help inform policy-makers aimed at reducing obesity among school-age children.