What exactly is a school wellness policy, and why is having one so important? The Inside Track sat down with Sarah Titzer, Healthy Schools Program Director for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, to find out more.
Many schools across the country are adopting wellness policies—district and campus-wide policies that establish best practices when it comes to promoting health among students. This is partly due to the fact that one requirement of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 was that any school districts participating in national school breakfast or lunch programs establish such a policy—a requirement that was further reinforced in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
According to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a school wellness policy should incorporate guidelines, implementation strategies and measurement or evaluation techniques for policies based on current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition standards in addition to nutrition education, physical education, physical activity and activities that promote and support both student and staff wellness.
The group adds: “A strong wellness policy will reflect the latest science on nutrition and physical activity with input from key groups, including school board members, school food authority, school administrators, school staff, parents, students, and community members.”
To help schools devise or update their own wellness policy, the Alliance has developed a model wellness policy that districts can use and tweak for their own specific needs. The model is based on the USDA's proposed requirements for wellness policies.
“Over the last several months, we have been working closely with our partners to develop this model wellness policy that districts can use to update their policies to be in compliance with the new proposed provisions of the federal law,” explains Sarah.
Though the model wellness policy is new, the Alliance has been working with schools to create and implement wellness policies since 2006 through their Healthy Schools Program, which awards schools for their accomplishments in creating healthy environments for students. This program already boasts several success stories.
Sarah notes that, “The bonus of our model wellness policy is that the basic requirements will also help schools achieve recognition from the Healthy Schools Program, starting at the bronze level and offering optional language to get them all the way to silver or even gold.”
Building and maintaining a strong wellness policy can be challenging, and the Alliance suggests that creating a wellness council at both the district and school-levels can really help garner support for implementation. Sarah says, “Collaboration is key! Think of a school wellness council as the ultimate holiday meal. Everyone contributes a course and the process is only complete with a full table of appetizers, side dishes, entrees and even dessert.”
Finally, Sarah offers some advice for schools looking to implement their own wellness policy: “Schools should make it a priority to regularly review and discuss the wellness policy with the school board at least once per year. In addition to using quarterly school wellness council meetings to review progress, celebrate success and identify priorities, schools should use the School Health Index on a regular basis to show progress (and celebrate success!) and identify areas where more work is needed.”
For more information on how you can promote wellness in your neighborhood’s schools, visit the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program website.