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School Wellness Policies Are Here! Will They Work?

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It’s definitely back to school time! I touched on school lunches last week and the difficulties that can be encountered when attempting to improve them. But beyond the school lunch, did you all know that for the first time by law, all districts in the United States that participate in the National School Lunch or Breakfast Program must have a Local School Wellness Policy in place before the start of school year 2006. This law is essentially a government reaction to the childhood obesity crisis.

Your school district most likely has the policy completed. There may be a lot of changes in your district or very few. School districts were given quite a bit of lee way as to what went into the policies. But the law does require that the wellness policies must have these five general components:

  1. Goals for nutrition education, physical activity and other school-based activities
  2. Nutrition guidelines for all foods and beverages available on all campuses
  3. Guidelines for school meals that meet or exceed what is required by law (nutrition standards and other program regulations)
  4. A plan to measure implementation of the policy, and appointing at least one person to ensure the policy is carried out in every school
  5. Community involvement –parents, students, school food services, the school board, school administrators, and the public at a minimum must form a committee to develop the school wellness policy

Number 5 most likely has already been taken care of. However, your district’s committee may still be active and you could possibly join it. Take special note of number 2. This means nutrition guidelines for any food available at all on campus. Not just what is served in the cafeteria or sold in the vending machines and student stores, but includes food and drinks brought in for class parties or sold as fundraisers. Before your kids next birthday party you might want to check with your school before you bring in those brownies. Things may have changed.

Or they might not have changed much at all. Again, the law left a lot of room for interpretation. Some districts have made sweeping changes, such as banning sugary drinks and junk food, while other districts have remained somewhat status quo just meeting the barebones of what is required by law.

Find out what is in your school district’s wellness policy. If you don’t think it’s good enough for our kids, you have a say in the matter. Get other parents and caregivers together to lobby for changes on your campuses. And keep your radar on for news stories about districts across the country putting their wellness policies into action. You will probably learn about some innovative programs that could work for your school district.

Will these policies really help change the school environment? Will there be a crack in the childhood obesity epidemic? Or do they just not go far enough?
Stay tuned….

To learn more about local school wellness policies visit the USDA’s Team Nutrition website.

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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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