Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice

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Doing Away With Doughnuts

Alliance for a Healthier Generation Healthy Schools Program
April 8, 2014

With a background in exercise physiology, Dr. Joanne Avery took on the role of Human Resources Director of Anderson County School District 4 with an eye to also improve employee wellness. She launched a staff wellness program with incentives for making an effort and changing to healthier behaviors.

The Need
In 2009 she was asked to create a new division to address student and employee wellness, which led to a task force to create a new and strong wellness policy. This policy was passed in 2011 and called for major changes to foods that were sold during school.
“We said that fundraisers needed to be physically active or use foods that meet our nutritional guidelines,” said Dr. Avery, who is now Deputy Superintendent. “That was a huge change for us. We eliminated the chocolate, cookie dough and doughnut sales. Selling that stuff doesn’t send the right message to students, staff and the community. We have an adult obesity rate of 70 percent in this county. Forty-eight percent of our sixth graders are overweight. And those foods cause disease.”

The Solution
When Dr. Avery first heard about the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, she was excited to sign up all of the schools in her district. “I love the self-evaluation component and the action plans. We have found that we are doing well with our competitive foods and policies but not as well with physical education. Now we need to get active, and we are working to increase our minutes for physical education. I don’t know that I would have gotten this far without the Alliance. It gave me the feedback I need on each school as well as the great resources.”
Dr. Avery took the lead in making vending machine changes at middle and high schools in her county. Now, the machines dispense approved products and the one middle school in the district has a healthy snack cart that makes the rounds in mid-morning so there are options for hungry students.
According to Dr. Avery, “Whenever you make a change to something people are used to, there won’t be 100% open arms. But the students will make the change and feel better for it. It’s not rocket science. Everyone here knows that if you eat the right kind of foods and are at a healthy weight, you perform better and feel better.”

The Outcome
She admits change wasn’t always easy. The food sales had become “historical events that people looked forward to each year.” It took education and consistent messaging to make the policy stick. “I had a parent call me and said, ‘I completely support this policy but can we just make an exception this one time for the doughnut sale?’ I understand that people are used to having access to this quick, easy money but we have to find another way. It requires people to be creative but they can get there.”
Dr. Avery said that she knows that schools are afraid that they will lose money if they can’t sell junk food. “My response is that we have been doing it for three years and we have found that kids will buy whatever we offer. There may be a little slump but you keep promoting it and then they get it.”

Dr. Avery’s Recipe for Success:

  • Enforce and sustain a change through a strong policy. We are fortunate to have a wonderful superintendent and board of trustees who understand the urgency and have supported the policy.
  • Once it is a policy make it a visible effort in everything you do and touch. If you have a staff development day, don’t serve pizza and cake. Have health on every agenda for meetings with principals. If you see something in the school that shouldn’t be there, go talk with the principal. Model the policy yourself. Be consistently committed to it.
  • Train and empower your fellow school leaders to say “no.” Principals are all committed to helping students be healthy. However, even if people support you in theory, it can be easy to fall back on the way things always were.