Local Wellness Policies

Assessing School District Strategies for Improving Children's Health

Over the past four decades, the obesity rate has more than quadrupled for children ages 6 to 11 and more than tripled for adolescents ages 12 to 19. And while obesity has increased in all segments of the population, rates are significantly higher among specific ethnic and racial groups. Obese children are at increased risk for serious health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and asthma.

Schools play an important role in the lives of our children.

Consequently, the relationship between schools and the childhood obesity epidemic must be explored. Research already has shown us that overweight and obese children tend to miss more school, which may affect academic performance. In contrast, strong evidence links healthy nutrition and physical activity behaviors with improved academic performance and classroom behavior among school-age children.

Schools serve as a fundamental setting for providing children and adolescents with a healthy environment where they can consume nutritious meals, snacks and beverages; get regular physical activity; and learn about the importance of lifelong healthy behaviors. Recognizing this, Congress included language in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-265, Section 204) that required school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP; [42 U.S.C.1751 et seq.]) or other child nutrition programs (42 U.S.C. 1771 et seq.), such as the School Breakfast Program, to adopt and implement a wellness policy by the first day of the 2006–07 school year.

The wellness policy requirement has significant potential for improving school nutrition and physical activity environments—during the 2007–08 school year, more than 31 million students participated in the National School Lunch Program, and more than 10 million students participated in the School Breakfast Program.

This report presents the most comprehensive review of these wellness policies to date. It uses research to set a baseline for examining and ultimately improving these policies. Future reports by Bridging the Gap will continue to examine the refinement of the policies that result from the upcoming reauthorization and innovation at the state and district levels.