Creating Healthy Schools: An Analysis of the Federal School Wellness Mandate

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Virginia Tech

Childhood obesity has become a growing problem in America; rates have tripled over the past 30 years, and more than 17 percent of America's children are classified as overweight or obese.  To combat the rise in childhood obesity, the federal government mandated in 2004 that all public school districts adopt a local school wellness policy that incorporates goals to improve the wellness environments of these public schools.  Previous research has indicated that the success of these policies is mixed; however, there has been no comprehensive research evaluating the quality of school wellness policies in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The purpose of this research is to evaluate local wellness policies within the Mid-Atlantic region.  These evaluations include a preliminary wellness policy evaluation based on locale (rural and urban school districts), an evaluation of the strength and comprehensiveness of template-based policies versus locally developed policies, and a comprehensive evaluation of physical activity policies within Virginia, Maryland and DC.  The last study included is an evaluation of the association between physical activity policy quality and physical activity rates within selected middle schools.

The results of this research show that wellness policy quality across the Mid-Atlantic region is weak and moderately comprehensive, and that the adoption process may impact the quality of a local policy.  Furthermore, physical activity policy within the region is also weak and moderately comprehensive, and the results show that school districts that have adopted stronger and more comprehensive polices may be associated with higher local physical activity rates.

childhood obesity, school wellness, policy