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Bridging the Gap: School District Wellness Policies

bridgingthegapBridging the Gap, a nationally recognized research program. released a new report that highlights major findings and trends in school district wellness policies, including updates on each of the federally-mandated components of these policies: school meals, competitive foods, nutrition education, physical activity, and implementation and evaluation.

The report, School District Wellness Policies: Evaluating Progress and Potential for Improving Children’s Health Five Years after the Federal Mandate, describes policy opportunities for advocates and decision-makers at the district, state, and federal levels that are based on nationally representative data from five school years, 2006-07 through 2010-11. Highlights from the report include:

Overall progress
Districts have made progress in adopting wellness policies, and in making those policies more comprehensive and stronger, but the policies remain weak overall and have been stagnant over the past three school years.

Competitive foods
Among all the required provisions, guidelines for competitive foods (the foods and drinks sold outside of school meal programs) were the weakest and the least likely to be adopted by districts. In fact, only 61 percent of students were in a district that had competitive food guidelines in 2010-11. Our report also compares districts’ guidelines with the 2007 Institute of Medicine nutritional standards for competitive foods and offers insight that is especially relevant to the USDA’s recently proposed rule on nutritional standards for competitive foods, which is open for public comment until April 9th.

Physical activity and physical education
Provisions related to physical activity and physical education have remained relatively weak. However, it’s worth noting that nearly 95 percent of students were in a district with a wellness policy that addressed physical education in 2010-11, even though physical education is not a required wellness policy component.

Wellness policy reporting requirements
We’ve added a new section with data about the reporting provisions currently addressed in the wellness policies that are required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This information may help inform the USDA’s forthcoming rule about district wellness policies.
Bridging the Gap is a nationally recognized research program whose goal is to improve the understanding of how policies and environmental factors affect diet, physical activity and obesity among youth, as well as youth tobacco use.