As the cliché goes, a little help goes a long way.
Since 2006, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program (HSP) has provided free support and technical assistance to thousands of schools nationwide. The idea is that if schools have the help they need to improve nutrition and opportunities for physical activity on campus, schools will be able to make sure all of their students are as healthy as possible.
There is now strong evidence that the Alliance’s methods not only work, but can dramatically improve the health outlook of students in participating schools.
A peer-reviewed study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease finds that training and technical assistance provided by Healthy Schools Program “was significantly associated with school progress.” The article notes that these findings are crucial as schools nationwide look to undertake changes over the next few years to meet federal goals to reduce childhood obesity rates.
The Inside Track chatted with the Alliance’s Ginny Ehrlich for insight, including tips on how schools can make positive changes.
What is your initial reaction to the findings in the issue ofPreventing Chronic Disease regarding the Healthy Schools Program?
The findings reveal that when schools serve students from lower-income families, they are just as inclined and capable of instituting healthier policies and practices as schools that serve students from high-income families. This is really inspiring. The Alliance believes that all schools should be healthy schools and the evaluation confirms that this is possible.
The findings show that schools that accessed technical assistance were more likely to become healthier. What exactly does that technical assistance entail?
The Healthy Schools Program offers resources for schools to take an audit of their current approach to school food and physical activity and then our staff provides guidance to school leadership on those areas that need to be improved.
We offer a set of science-based best practices related to physical activity, school meals, staff wellness, health education and overall policy. As schools start to implement best practices, we provide various types of support including professional development training, suggested curriculum and materials, information and content experts who can provide one-on-one assistance.
It is an important time for school food. Schools are beginning to implement improved school nutrition standards for meals and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to unveil guidelines for competitive foods, which are foods served or sold to students outside of regular meals. How do you think the Healthy Schools Programs can play a role in these efforts? And how do you think the findings in the journal will affect these efforts?
The Healthy Schools Program created a science-based set of nutrition guidelines for food and beverages served on school campuses. We offer expert advice and many resources at no-cost to help schools meet these standards, including a list of hundreds of food and beverage products that meet our nutrition criteria. We encourage any school that is working to align with the USDA nutrition guidelines to enroll in the Healthy Schools Program and access our tools.
The study’s findings prove that schools across the country are successfully improving their policies and practices for healthy eating and physical activity. This sends a message to other schools that they too can start building healthier environments.
What are some fun or creative things schools have done to improve the health of their campus?
I’m constantly impressed by the innovative and creative strategies schools implement to get their students and staff eating better and moving more. And, the great thing is that most of these strategies are cost neutral, so other schools can replicate on their campuses.
Just to name a few:
Are you optimistic that school food is getting better?
I’ve had the pleasure of eating lunch at many different schools, and I can say, firsthand, that schools are serving meals that are both healthier and full of flavor.
I think many schools realize that there is a connection between healthy habits, strong academics and good behavior. Schools are working hard to make sure the food and beverages they offer students are nutritious because this helps overall performance.
The Alliance has collaborated with celebrity chefs like Rachael Ray and iCarly star Reed Alexander to create delicious, healthy recipes that schools can use as part of their meals program.
Any school interested in using one of our celebrity recipes or learning more about our Healthy Schools Program should visit us at HealthierGeneration.org.