Enhancing School Wellness Environments to Make to Make the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice
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The Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Prevention & Health Promotion has partnered with Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program and Virginia Tech in order to enhance Extension’s efforts to promote and support student health in select K-12 schools by implementing a variety of evidence-based nutrition and physical activity platforms intended to enhance school wellness environments, policies, and practices. Additionally, the implementation of a consistent statewide health messaging campaign by partnering agencies creates buy-in and promotes a culture of health. 74 words When the Virginia Department of Health was awarded the CDC 1305 State Public Health Actions to Prevent and Control Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity, and Associated Risk Factors and Promote School Health, an obvious stakeholder from the onset was Virginia Cooperative Extension and its Family Nutrition Program. The first area of collaboration was a joint CDC School Health Guidelines training sponsored by the American Cancer Society. These trainings are being offered statewide to bolster school wellness efforts, as the guidelines serve as the foundation for developing, implementing, and evaluating school-based healthy eating and physical activity policies and practices for students. The next step was to market the Guidelines to Extension Agents from local communities by providing a webinar to explain the partnership and the shared goal of strengthening school wellness policies to make the healthy choice the easy choice for students. Several Snap-Ed agents are being charged with participating on school wellness councils in their local communities and to support and strengthen policies. Health and education affect individuals, society, and the economy and, as such, must work together whenever possible. Therefore, two Virginia Tech specialists from the Department of Human Foods, Nutrition, and Exercise will provide Extension agent trainings in Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model components that the agents from around the state will share with school staff and parents. Finally, multiple messages will reach parents through social media and e-newsletters distributed through parent teacher organizations. It is clear that the improvements made to school meals and snacks are making a difference in students’ lives beyond the cafeteria. Therefore, providing consistent nutrition and health messaging to all students in schools can help reinforce healthy behaviors and choices. Utilizing the “Eat Smart Move More” social marketing campaign, for students and parents, will impact lives at multiple levels.