School Wellness Policies

It’s Back to School time and one new thing parents may notice is an enhanced school wellness policy. Beginning July 1, 2014, more than 22,000 schools are now eligible to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students as part of a nationwide expansion of the National School Lunch Program/School Breakfast Program. Established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, these programs help to provide free nutritious meals to low-income children. School districts that participate in these programs are required to develop a wellness policy that promotes sound nutrition, student health, and reduce childhood obesity.

School wellness policies often include goals and specific actions to help students live a healthier lifestyle. Some policies call for healthier cafeteria options based on the U. S. Government’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards. Policies can also include required daily physical education classes and efforts that enhance fitness programs.  The most effective policies measure their success against specific goals, such as introducing a new healthy food item into the cafeteria once a month or tracking students’ healthy weight by measuring Body Mass Index.

To help students reach and maintain a healthy weight, many schools are measuring students’ Body Mass Index (BMI). Some states have already passed legislation that requires that BMI be measured and documented in school fitness reports. BMI has become a focus for schools because studies have shown that children with a BMI score in the overweight or obese ranges are at increased risk for many diseases and health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The USDA launched a new website, “School Nutrition Environment and Wellness Resources” to help schools develop and implement wellness policies, available here: http://healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/local-wellness-policy-resources/school-nutrition-environment-and-wellness-resources-0

To learn more about your own community’s wellness policy, contact your school district’s administrative office.

Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/npao/wellness.htm; http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/smart-snacks-school