Congress recognized the important role schools play in promoting health. In 2004, Congress passed the Child Nutrition and Women Infants and Children (WIC) Reauthorization Act that required by law all education agencies participating in the National School Lunch Program to create local wellness policies. Each education agency was responsible for developing their own wellness policy so that individual needs could be addressed (CDC, 2011b).
New provisions for local wellness policies were added in 2010 when Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The provisions require agencies to be measured periodically on the extent of compliance with the local wellness policy and the progress made in achieving the goals of the individual policy. These assessments must be made available to the public by the end of the 2012 school year (CDC, 2011b).
Nutrition promotion and education goals Physical activity goals Nutrition guidelines to reduce childhood obesity and promote health Educate and update the community about the content and implementation Be periodically measured on compliance with the policy and the progress made in attaining the goals set forth. Progress assessments must be made publicly available.(CDC, 2011b)
Permit parents, students, school health professionals, physical education teachers, school administrators, food authority representatives, the school board, and the general public to participate in the development, execution, and update of the policy (CDC, 2011b).The greater the diversity of members involved in the wellness policy process, the greater the chance to develop extensive support for wellness policies (School Wellness Policies, 2007).
In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has tripled (CDC, 2011a). Obesity affects 17% of children in the United States (CDC, 2011a). More than 23 million children and teens, one in three young people, are overweight or obese in the United States today (RWJF, n.d.).
Obese children are at an increased risk for sleep apnea, asthma, joint problems, gallstones, reflux, diabetes, hypert ension, and high cholesterol. Overweight children are more likely to become obese adults and adult obesity is associated with heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers (CDC, 2011a).
Childhood obesity threatens the health of young people and puts their future potential at risk. Obese youth miss more school, have an increased risk for developing social and psychological problems including poor self- esteem and discrimination (CDC, 2011a).
Physically active children are more likely to be attentive, motivated, and achieve academic success (Pekruhn, 2009). Participating in regular physical activity during childhood and adolescence helps reduce anxiety and stress, increases mood, concentration, and self-esteem which influence learning (Pekruhn, 2009).
Join the wellness policy revision committee at your child’s school Encourage the school to adopt healthier food choices and proper portion sizes (School Wellness Policies, 2007). Encourage the school not to eliminate recess as a form of punishment Encourage physical education daily at school (School Wellness Policies, 2007). Increase your child’s physical activity at home (School Wellness Policies, 2007).
Learn about the scope of the wellness policy at your child’s school Follow the school’s progress to ensure accountability Help the school explore funding opportunities for health initiatives (School Wellness Policies, 2007). Support restricting vending machine purchases during the school day. The availability of junk food in school can be attributed to approximately one-fifth of the average increase in adolescent weight (Pekruhn, 2009).
Children spend the majority of their day at school making the education system a valuable tool for promoting healthy nutrition. Schools have the ability to encourage students to make healthy choices by increasing access to nutritious foods, physical activities, and through curricula (Schwarz & Aratani, 2011). However, the school alone cannot combat the obesity epidemic. Your help is needed too! As parents, you have a responsibility to develop healthy habits in your child. Get involved at your child’s school to ensure your child has healthy food choices and participates in daily physical activity. Your dedication, support, and encouragement can make a difference!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (2011a). Childhood overweight and obesity. Retrieved November 14, 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011b). Local school wellness policy. Retrieved November 14, 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/npao/wellness.h tm Pekruhn, Colin. (2009). Preventing Childhood Obesity: A School Policy Guide. Retrieved from http://www.rwjf.org/files/research/20090506nasb eguide.pdf
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). (n.d.). Childhood obesity. Retrieved November 14, 2011 from http://www.rwjf.org/healthpolicy/childhoodobesity/index .jsp School Wellness Policies. (2007). Legislator Policy Brief. Retrieved from http://www.healthystates.csg.org/NR/rdonlyres/C87EB2 8D-B2F6-4399-B1BD- BC5617940019/0/SchoolWellnessPoliciesFINAL.pdf Schwarz, S. & Aratani, Y. (2011). Improving the odds for adolescents: State policies that support adolescent health and well-being. Retrieved from http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_1034.pdf