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Nation’s Largest School Districts Developing Healthier School Environments

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Contact: Erik Peterson
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Nation’s Largest School Districts Developing Healthier School Environments
School Nutrition Association Reviews Wellness Policies Passed by 100 Largest School Districts

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (August 10, 2006) – From Los Angeles to Brownsville, TX, most of the nation’s 100 largest school districts by enrollment are requiring nutrition education, adding recess and tightening nutrition standards.  Of these districts, which educate 23% of American students, more than 94% have passed a local wellness policy that addresses nutrition standards for a la carte foods and beverages, according to analysis conducted by the School Nutrition Association.

School nutrition professionals continue to play a leadership role in the ongoing trend towards healthy school environments and the development of local wellness policies.  Section 204 of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 required that all school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program approve a local wellness policy by July 1, 2006. The law mandated that these policies include goals for nutrition education, physical activity and other school-based activities as well as nutrition guidelines for all foods and beverages available on school campuses.

The following summary outlines key characteristics of local wellness policies approved by the largest 100 school districts, by enrollment, in the United States. The School Nutrition Association is collecting and analyzing wellness policies based on 79% of those school districts that have passed policies as of August 7, 2006.

Although the top 100 school districts make up less than 1% of the school districts in the nation, they account for 16% of the schools, 21% of the teachers and 23% of the nation's K-12 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Nutrition Standards for all Foods and Beverages Available in Schools
Of the local wellness policies approved by the top 100 school districts:
98.7% address school meal nutrition standards. (Note that the US Department of Agriculture has set federal nutrition standards for meals served through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.)

94.9% address nutrition standards for a la carte foods and beverages.

92% address nutrition standards for foods and beverages available in vending machines.

11.5% specify each individual food or beverage item within a la carte and vending programs have a maximum of 30% calories from fat, 10% calories from saturated fat and 35% sugar by weight.

23% address food safety and/or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems

66.6% address nutrition standards/guidelines for fundraisers held during school hours.

61.5% address nutrition standards/guidelines for classroom celebrations or parties.

65% address nutrition standards/guidelines for teachers using foods as rewards in the classroom.

The major themes of the nutrition standards provisions included:

  • A wide variety of approaches aimed at promoting wellness among students;
  • Following state nutrition standards and guidelines;
  • An emphasis on whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and low fat dairy foods and beverages;
  • An emphasis on a pleasant eating environment for students;
  • Scheduling recess before lunch
  • Requiring school breakfast service, often in the classroom or through hallway kiosks; and
  • Offering summer foodservice programs.

Physical Activity
Of the local wellness policies approved by the top 100 school districts:
51% of school districts address a recess requirement for at least elementary grade levels.

78% require physical activity for at least some grade levels.

The major themes of physical activity provisions included:

  • Following state physical education requirements, including after school athletic activities;
  • Incorporating physical activity into classroom activities;
  • Professional development for physical education instructors; and
  • Making athletic facilities available after school hours for the community.

Nutrition Education
Of the local wellness policies approved by the top 100 school districts:
85.8% require nutrition education for at least some grade levels.

The major themes of nutrition education provisions included:

  • Following state-specified nutrition and health education curriculum requirements;
  • Integrating nutrition education into traditional curriculum/courses (i.e. math, English, etc.);
  • Utilizing the cafeteria and school menu for nutrition education;
  • Professional development of those required to teach nutrition education; and
  • Providing nutrition education to parents.

Other School-Based Activities
Of the local wellness policies approved by the top 100 school districts:
19% incorporate staff wellness programs into school district policies. These programs encourage teachers and school staff to serve as role models in regard to wellness behaviors.

11.5% address nutrition standards for meals provided for field trips.

Implementation and Evaluation
Of the local wellness policies approved by the top 100 school districts:
94.8% outlined a plan for implementation and evaluation, utilizing the superintendent, school nutrition director or wellness policy task force as the entity responsible for monitoring the policy. The challenge for all local communities will be implementation of their policy.

Other Findings
Other components and programs mentioned in the policies of the top 100 districts were school gardens (6%) and requiring adequate time for students to eat lunch (17.9%).

Policy Approval
Of the top 100 school districts:
79% have approved a local wellness policy as of August 7, 2006.

10% have not yet approved a local wellness policy. In each of these cases, the school boards have scheduled a final vote on a draft policy for the upcoming weeks.

11% have not yet submitted a policy to be part of the top 100 school districts assessment.

The School Nutrition Association (formerly ASFSA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country. The Association and its members are dedicated to feeding children safe and nutritious meals. Founded in 1946, SNA is the only association devoted exclusively to protecting and enhancing children’s health and well being through school meals and sound nutrition education.


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