Local Wellness Policy Implementation: A Conversation with Directors
March 23, 2007--The midpoint of the 2006-07 school year has come and gone and it is an opportune time for reflection on some of the big changes that have marked this landmark year. Notably, schools across America were charged with implementing the tenets of local school wellness policies that were mandated in the 2004 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. This winter, SNA interviewed child nutrition directors in five diverse school districts (small, medium, large, urban, suburban, and rural). The interviews provide an interesting perspective on this current step in the local wellness policy process. Here are some of their collective reflections:
Have all aspects of your local school wellness policy (LSWP) been implemented, or are you still working on aspects of implementation? If things are still in progress, what elements still have not been implemented?
All of the directors SNA interviewed stated that their LSWPs focus on nutrition standards for school lunches, a la carte items, and vending machine fare. Most of the directors agree that the implementation process has been gradual, with many districts setting timelines for implementing certain parts of their policies. Many directors expressed hope to build on the current policy each year, particularly in the areas of physical activity, nutrition education, fundraising, and classroom rewards and party guidelines.
What success have you had with implementing your LSWP?
The majority of the responding directors were very upbeat when reflecting on the implementation process. After overcoming initial “problems” caused by removing such favorite items as soda, cookies, and other snacks, most directors say that their students are adjusting to new nutrition standards. For the most part, directors have experienced few problems eliminating cookies or introducing lowfat alternatives. Students have accepted the change with few children questioning or challenging the policy. Additionally, most parents seem to welcome the healthier snacks available to their children.
These directors also have developed new ideas to engage students in healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. In one district, students are reading nutrition information cards before choosing meals. In another part of the country, a small district worked with two local grocery stores to develop a list of healthy snacks available for classroom parties. That same district also provided recipes for healthier baked goods to the grocery store’s in-house bakery, so parents could purchase those items for class parties.
What are some challenges or problems you have had in implementing your LSWP?
The directors interviewed by SNA had less to say concerning major challenges they face in comparison to sharing their achievements in LSWP implementation. One director reported some initial complaints from students regarding the availability of certain a la carte items, such as cookies and candy bars. Another director asserted that the hardest part of the implementation process was constantly defending the school lunch program to parents.
Most district directors were concerned about the physical activity and nutrition education sections of their LSWPs. In the face of many other subjects and requirements competing for available time and attention, many schools find it difficult to fit in yet another requirement. Some directors also have found that existing nutrition education programs are now either outdated or insufficient.
Is the new LSWP causing any expected or unexpected financial hardships or cost increases?
Overwhelmingly, the directors confirmed losses of revenue from a la carte and vending machine sales. The good news is that most districts are seeing sales pick up again. Some directors also reported that the changes in a la carte items resulted in increases in reimbursable school lunch participation. One director strongly urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide additional money to implement the LSWP in school lunch and breakfast programs.