October 2009

Grant Results

SUMMARY

From 2005 to 2008, staff at the California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition) supported efforts by key stakeholders nationwide to develop, implement and evaluate school wellness policies. Such policies are federally mandated plans created by each school district to show how it will encourage healthy eating and physical fitness among its students.

The project partners—leaders in spurring districts to develop school wellness policies—conducted research on the efforts of groups of stakeholders to create and implement such policies; produced and disseminated an overall report on the findings, a report targeted to each stakeholder group and a policy brief; conducted two webinars (online training); and provided technical assistance to stakeholders around the country.

Key Findings
Project staff reported the following findings from online surveys; focus groups; and interviews with school board members, leaders of state associations of school boards, state directors of nutrition and school wellness advocates in School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation, and Evaluation:

  • Respondents in all four groups regarded the federal mandate on school wellness policies as valuable and were optimistic that such policies would encourage healthy eating and greater physical activity among youth.
  • Respondents in all four groups identified the following as the most significant barriers to effective school wellness policies:
    • Inadequate funding, such as for staff and facilities, to implement and monitor a policy.
    • Competing priorities and lack of time.
    • Lack of support from students, parents and the community.
    • A need for tools and training.

Funding
From October 2005 to August 2008, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project with three grants totaling $296,755.

 See Grant Detail & Contact Information
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THE PROBLEM

To prevent childhood obesity and combat health problems stemming from poor nutrition and lack of physical activity, Congress passed the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants and Children Reauthorization Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-265). The law required all school districts participating in federal nutrition programs to develop a policy on student wellness by the 2006–07 school year. Local policies had to include:

  • Nutrition guidelines for all foods available during the school day.
  • Goals for nutrition education, physical activity and other school-based activities.
  • Assurance that the district's guidelines for reimbursable school meals were not less restrictive than federal regulations.
  • A plan for measuring the implementation of the wellness policy, including the designation of responsible staff.

The policy had to involve parents, students, school board members and school administrators. However, the law provided no guidance or resources to school districts on how to implement, evaluate or monitor the policy.

California Project LEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition) and the California School Boards Association created Successful Students through Healthy Food and Fitness Policies, a program that develops resources on the critical links between academic achievement and nutrition and health and also trains school board members—mostly in the state—to create school wellness policies. The program received the 2004 Innovations in Prevention Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The two California groups wanted to provide information and tools to help other state health and education departments, state associations of school boards and school districts implement meaningful school wellness policies.

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RWJF STRATEGY

RWJF seeks to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015 by improving access to affordable, healthy foods and increasing opportunities for physical activity in schools and communities across the nation.

RWJF has developed three integrated strategies to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic: evidence, action and advocacy.

  • Evidence. Investments in building the evidence base will help ensure that the most promising efforts are replicated throughout the nation.
  • Action. The Foundation's action strategy for communities and schools focuses on engaging partners at the local level, building coalitions and promoting the most promising approaches.
  • Advocacy. As Foundation staff and grantees learn from the evidence and action strategies, they share results by educating leaders and investing in advocacy, building a broad national constituency for childhood obesity prevention.

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THE PROJECT

The California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition) conducted and disseminated research and provided training and technical assistance to help school districts nationwide develop, implement and evaluate federally mandated school wellness policies. RWJF supported those efforts with three grants.

The Research

The first grant (ID# 053816) funded research on the readiness and capacity of stakeholders across the nation to implement school wellness policies. The project staff summarized the research findings in an overall report and then separate reports aimed at different audiences, and staff also developed an action plan to help school boards develop and implement evidence-based wellness policies.

The researchers targeted four key audiences:

  • School board members.
  • Executive directors, policy directors and communication directors of state associations of school boards.
  • Directors of nutrition at state public health agencies.
  • School wellness advocates who were members of Action for Healthy Kids, a nonprofit organization formed in 2002 to enhance children's nutrition and physical activity through changes in schools. Members include parents; health and nutrition professionals; teachers and school administrators; and leaders from business, higher education and community and nonprofit organizations.

Methodology
Project staff used online surveys with school board members, representatives of state school board associations, school wellness advocates and public nutrition directors; focus groups with policy directors from state school board associations and school board members; and interviews with educators and superintendents. For more information, see the Appendix.

Promoting a School Wellness Conference

The second grant (ID# 061948) supported the national marketing of a School Wellness Conference held in October 2007 in Anaheim, Calif., as well as stipends to enable leaders from Leadership for Healthy Communities, an RWJF national program, to attend. The conference, organized by the California School Boards Association, the California Department of Education and the California Department of Public Health, convened stakeholders to discuss strategies for implementing, monitoring and evaluating school wellness policies.

Project staff publicized the conference to national and state networks outside California, including Action for Healthy Kids, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the Association of Educational Service Agencies, the Division of Adolescent School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Council of State Governments.

Packaging and Disseminating the Research Results

The third grant (ID# 063174) supported packaging and disseminating the research results to the different groups of stakeholders via publications, listservs, Web sites, conferences and trainings.

Other Funding

The California School Boards Foundation provided in-kind support of $14,157 for the research. California Project LEAN provided in-kind support of $14,387, as well as $3,955 to print the research report.

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FINDINGS

Project staff reported its findings from the online surveys, focus groups and interviews in School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. Among the findings:

  • Respondents in all groups regarded the federal mandate on school wellness policies as valuable and were optimistic that such policies would encourage healthy eating and greater physical activity among youth.
  • Some 80 percent of school board members interviewed viewed wellness among youth as a high or moderate priority, and most expressed confidence in the work of their districts on school wellness:
    • Some 51 percent reported progress in developing wellness policies.
    • Some 36 percent reported progress in implementing the policies.
    • Some 28 percent reported progress in monitoring and evaluating the impact of the policies.
    • Some 65 percent believed their district would implement its policy effectively, and 55 percent believed the district would evaluate it effectively.
  • Other groups of respondents had less confidence in the efforts of school districts in their states to develop and implement wellness policies:
    • About 42 percent of state nutrition directors and 30 percent of school wellness advocates were "not at all confident" that policies created by school boards represented best practices.
    • About 89 percent of state nutrition directors and 48 percent of school wellness advocates believed that districts had "minimal capacity" to monitor and evaluate school wellness policies.
  • Leaders of state associations of school boards reported providing districts with model school wellness policies, but most such leaders considered districts responsible for implementing and evaluating the policies.
  • Superintendents felt responsible for ensuring that schools implement their wellness policies, but most had not sought assistance with fostering healthy eating and physical fitness among youth.
  • Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that there was a "disconnect" among members of the four groups regarding the capacity of districts to develop, implement and evaluate wellness policies.
  • Respondents identified the following as the most significant barriers to effective school wellness policies:
    • Inadequate funding, such as for staff and facilities, to implement a wellness policy.
    • Competing priorities and lack of time.
    • Lack of support from students, parents and the community.
    • A need for tools and training.

Results

Project staff reported the following results to RWJF:

  • Project staff members created five publications based on their research and distributed them through state and national stakeholder networks and Web sites. The publications included the full research report, three shorter reports targeted to specific stakeholders and a policy brief:
    • School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation, and Evaluation, full research report, available online.
    • School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation and Evaluation: Research Implications for School Board Members, available online.
    • School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation and Evaluation: Research Implications for State Public Health Nutrition Directors and School Wellness Advocates, available online.
    • School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation and Evaluation: Research Implications for State School Boards Association Leaders, available online.
    • District Progress on School Wellness Policies and Remaining Challenges, policy brief, available online.
  • The 2007 School Wellness Conference drew 1,240 participants from 29 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and England. Staff awarded 18 free registrations and 15 travel stipends to enable leaders from the RWJF program Leadership for Healthy Communities and from state school boards associations to attend.

    Project staff produced a brochure on the results of the conference and distributed it in both print and electronic form to its list of contacts nationwide.
  • Project staff members conducted two webinars (online seminars) at which they distributed the research briefs. The seminars focused on how stakeholders could apply the research findings to work on school wellness policies. The first webinar, held in June 2008, was for school board members and leaders of state associations of school boards; the second, in July 2008, was for state nutrition directors and school wellness advocates.
  • Project staff members offered presentations and trainings on their research findings and on developing and implementing school wellness policies at national conferences and meetings, including:
    • A presentation and training at the School Wellness Conference, October 1–2, 2007, in Anaheim, Calif.
    • A workshop at the conference of the National School Boards Association, March 29–April 1, 2008, in Orlando, Fla.
    • A presentation at the conference of the American Association of State Policy Services in June 2008, in Lawrence, Kan.
  • Project staff provided technical assistance on school wellness policies to state health and education departments (in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont and Utah) and to state associations of school boards (in New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington).

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AFTER THE GRANT

The California School Boards Association, the California Department of Education and the California Department of Public Health planned a second School Wellness Conference held October 6–7, 2009. This conference addressed critical aspects of student health in addition to nutrition and physical activity, such as mental health, oral health, diabetes, indoor air quality and asthma.

"It is exciting to expand into other aspects of overall wellness, as that move reflects a growing understanding of the relationship between good health and learning," said Project Director Martin Gonzalez.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

The Successful Students through Healthy Food and Fitness Policies Research Project

Grantee

California School Boards Foundation (West Sacramento,  CA)

  • Formative research for disseminating California's student wellness policies
    Amount: $ 155,325
    Dates: October 2005 to June 2007
    ID#:  053816

  • National marketing for California's 2007 School Wellness Conference on preventing childhood obesity
    Amount: $ 41,438
    Dates: August 2007 to July 2008
    ID#:  061948

  • Disseminating the results of the Successful Students through Healthy Food and Fitness Policies research project
    Amount: $ 99,992
    Dates: September 2007 to August 2008
    ID#:  063174

Contact

Project Director: Martin Gonzalez
(916) 669-3340
mgonzalez@csba.org
Contact: Peggy Agron, M.A., R.D.
(916) 552-9883
peggy.agron@cdph.ca.gov

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APPENDICES


Appendix 1

Research Methodology

  • Online surveys with the four key audiences mentioned earlier, administered in March and April 2006, including:
    • Some 2,400 school board members from all 50 states, representing a mix of urban, suburban and rural districts with diverse socioeconomic and racial/ethnic profiles.
    • Some 190 executive directors, policy directors and communication directors from 48 state associations of school boards.
    • Some 527 school wellness advocates from 50 states who were members of Action for Healthy Kids.
    • State public health nutrition directors from 23 states.
  • Five focus groups, including:
    • Two focus groups with 10 policy directors from nine state school board associations at the June 2006 conference of the American Association of State Policy Services in Gettysburg, Pa. Project staff also conducted a roundtable discussion with 50 conference attendees from various states.
    • Three focus groups with a total of 37 school board members in April 2006. These included two focus groups at the convention of the National School Boards Association in Chicago, and one at a regional conference of the Arizona State School Boards Association in Tempe, Ariz. Participants represented 27 school districts with varying racial, ethnic and socioeconomic profiles in 17 states.
  • Interviews in June and July 2006 with educators in three school districts in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Texas and a state collaborative in Iowa, and with superintendents of eight school districts of varying sizes and racial profiles that had made progress in implementing school wellness policies. These interviews were designed to elicit information on successful strategies and outcomes, barriers and challenges and lessons learned.

The California School Boards Association subcontracted with MMS Education to help develop the survey, run the focus groups and analyze the results.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Reports

Action Plan. Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, November 11, 2006.

District Progress on School Wellness Policies and Remaining Challenges (policy brief). Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association, March 2007. Available online.

School Wellness Conference (brochure summarizing results of School Wellness Conference). Anaheim, CA, October 1–2, 2007. Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, 2007.

School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation, and Evaluation: Perceptions, Barriers, and Opportunities Among School Board Members, State School Boards Associations, School Wellness Advocates, State Public Health Nutrition Directors, and Superintendents (full report). Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, revised 2008. Available online.

School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation and Evaluation: Research Implications for School Board Members (short report). Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, May 2008. Available online.

School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation and Evaluation: Research Implications for State Public Health Nutrition Directors and School Wellness Advocates (short report). Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, May 2008. Available online.

School Wellness Policy Development, Implementation and Evaluation: Research Implications for State School Boards Association Leaders (short report). Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, May 2008. Available online.

Survey Instruments

"School Wellness Survey (School Board Members)." Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, fielded March–April 2006.

"School Wellness Survey (School Wellness Advocates)." Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, fielded March–April 2006.

"School Wellness Survey (State School Boards Association Leaders)." Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, fielded March–April 2006.

"School Wellness Survey (State Nutrition Directors)." Sacramento, CA: California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN, fielded March–April 2006.

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Report prepared by: Nina Berlin
Reviewed by: Sandra Hackman
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Jamie B. Bussel

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