Local School Wellness Policies

How are Schools Implementing the Congressional Mandate?

The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 mandated that school districts participating in any federally reimbursed school meal programs develop a local school wellness policy by the beginning of the 2006–07 school year. School districts were required to establish nutritional guidelines for all foods available on the school campus; assure that federally reimbursable school meals meet minimum USDA standards; and establish goals for nutrition education, physical activity and other school-based activities. While the federal mandate included some physical activity language, it did not include specific requirements for addressing physical education.

As Congress works to reauthorize the federal legislation that included the local school wellness policy provision, there is real opportunity to help school districts address the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. Nearly one-third of U.S. children and teens are now overweight or obese, which increases their risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and a host of other serious conditions. Policy-makers, researchers and advocates are looking for ways to make schools healthier by strengthening local wellness policies; updating nutrition standards for competitive foods, such as those offered in vending machines, à la carte lines and school stores; allowing more time for physical activity; and strengthening nutrition education and promotion efforts.

This brief summarizes results of the preliminary evidence on the implementation of local school wellness policies and presents data in three key areas: quality, evaluation and funding of the policies; nutrition standards and nutrition education requirements; and physical activity requirements. While many of the published studies include school districts from across the nation, it is not clear that they accurately represent national data or trends. This brief will be updated as more evidence about the implementation and impact of these policies becomes available.