In Pennsylvania, through a mini-grant program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Team Nutrition program, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and administered through Project PA at Penn State, fifteen schools implemented a variety of environmental strategies to improve students’ food choices. These strategies included school markets, introduction of milk vending machines, pricing strategies, and other creative approaches to encourage healthier choices. The following materials describe each of these strategies with specific examples of the implementation of these strategies in the mini-grant schools.
Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice in Schools | Web Quality PDF
With the passage of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, local education agencies are required to establish wellness policies to address childhood obesity. These policies were required to include goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other school-based programs to address student wellness, as well as establish nutrition guidelines for foods offered in schools during the school day.
Environmental Nutrition Strategies
The success of the wellness policies may depend on the extent to which schools are able to make changes that make healthy options the easy choice for students. These environmental changes, which usually involve alterations in promotion, price, access, or availability of healthy options, have shown promise in altering students’ purchasing behavior.
Childhood obesity has reached an alarming level, with recent reports indicating that 17% of children and adolescents are overweight.1 This level represents a significant increase since the late 1970s. Childhood overweight is cause for concern because of its association with high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes and psychosocial problems in childhood as well as increased risk for chronic disease in adulthood. Food choices of most US children do not meet current dietary recommendations, with children consuming less than the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. Recent data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that only 20% of teenagers eat fifi ve or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day and only 16% drink three or more glasses of milk a day. More than two-thirds of children exceed the recommended intake for fat and saturated fat.
Role for Schools
Schools are in a unique position to address children’s eating habits and be instrumental in efforts to reduce childhood obesity because of the signififi cant amount of time that children spend in school and the number of children enrolled in schools. Schools can impact children’s eating habits through the foods offered in schools, classroom health education, and the messages students receive throughout the school environment.