Reducing Childhood Obesity Through a Focus on Schools as Part of a Multi-Sectoral Approach

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–June 10, 2010.


Childhood obesity is one of our nation’s leading health threats. Today, nearly one in three children and youth is already overweight or obese. The obesity epidemic is clearly taking its toll, as more and more kids are developing conditions and diseases that we would normally associate with adults—like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and type-2 diabetes. Some experts believe that if the childhood obesity trend continues, this current generation may become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents.

Thus, a successful strategy to combat child obesity requires coordination across multiple sectors — homes, schools, communities, doctors’ offices, online, and on air. Successful childhood obesity efforts must be multi-sectoral and focus on not only building awareness, but establishing the conditions that make it easier for children and youth to eat well and be active.

A Model for Healthier Schools

Every day in the United States, 53 million people go to a school to work or to learn. As a result, schools are one of the most powerful places to shape the health, education, and well-being of students and staff. Healthy school environments are essential to equipping students with the knowledge and skills necessary to make healthy choices.

One effective multi-sector model for making schools healthier is the Healthy Schools Program. The Program, created by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, supports schools across the country in their efforts to establish programs and policies that provide students and staff access to healthier foods and more physical activity before, during and afterschool. Schools that succeed in transforming their schools into healthier places are nationally recognized. Support to and recognition of schools is centered on the following objectives:

The Healthy Schools Program uses a capacity-building approach with the goal of sustaining and continuing policy and program change in schools over time. There are two key tenets to the Healthy Schools Program Model:

  1. Guiding schools and districts towards evidence-based policies and programs through a Best Practices Framework; and
  2. Training schools and districts on a continuous improvement process to help them phase in policies and programs over time.

The Best Practices Framework outlines evidence-based policies and programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity in the school setting in eight key areas:

School Policy/Systems

Examples of the best practices in this category include keeping the school grounds open to students, their families and the community for access to physical activity; and making drinking water available to students free-of-charge at all times during the school day.

School Meals Programs

Examples in this area include offering at least four non-fried, no-added-sugar vegetable options weekly; offering at least one low-fat entrée choice at lunch with less than 35 percent of calories from total fat, less than 10 percent from saturated fat, zero grams trans fat, and less than 480mg sodium; and confirming that at least half of all grains offered daily, at breakfast and lunch, are whole grains.

Competitive Foods & Beverages:

This area entails the adoption of competitive (Snack) foods and beverages guidelines to help students make healthier food choices in the school environment. These guidelines cover foods offered outside of the reimbursable meal program such as products sold in school vending machines, à la carte lines, snack bars, fundraisers, and school stores.

Physical Activity

Examples in this area include that school be a place where all students have the opportunity to participate in physical activity on a daily basis; that the school offer a range of competitive physical activity opportunities before or afterschool; and that the school offer a range of non-competitive physical activity opportunities aimed at engaging students in fun physical activity before or after the school day.

Health Education

Examples in this area include that middle and high schools offer dedicated health education courses, and that healthy eating and physical activity messages should be integrated into other subject areas.

Physical Education

Examples in this area include that students are moderately to vigorously physically active for at least 50 percent of the physical education class time; that physical education requirements are not waived for other activities; and that the student/teacher ratio is comparable with other classes.

Before/Afterschool Programs

Examples in this area include that before and afterschool program offerings dedicate at least 20 percent of their time to physical activity; and that at the elementary and middle school levels, a healthy snack is offered.

School Employee Wellness

Because “do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t work with most young people, examples in this area include that school staff walk the talk with by participating in weight management, health screenings, tobacco cessation, and physical activity programs; and offer healthy foods and beverages in the lounge and at school-sponsored staff functions.

Schools participating in the Healthy Schools Program also receive training in a continuous improvement process, the Six Steps to a Healthier School, to implement and sustain health-promoting policy and program changes. The six steps include:

Forming of a School Wellness Council

The School Wellness Council is the major force behind local implementation of the Healthy Schools Program best practices. The School Wellness Council plans, advises and leads the implementation of all of the local Healthy Schools Program activities.

Completion of the Healthy Schools Inventory

The School Wellness Council completes the Healthy Schools Inventory, aligned to the Healthy Schools Program Best Practice Framework. This easy, online inventory helps schools identify what elements of the Healthy Schools best practice criteria are already in place and what best practices areas can serve as next steps.

Development of a Plan of Action

Once the School Wellness Council has completed the inventory, they determine the policy and program gaps identified in the analysis and plan actions that are doable and important in their school community. The action plan is then developed with an eye toward achieving Healthy Schools Program recognition and involves families and the community every step of the way.

Resource Brokering

The School Wellness Council reviews their action plans and identifies the resources they need for implementation.

Implementation of the Action Plan

The School Wellness Council uses local and Healthy Schools Program resources to implement changes in the school environment. This requires enlisting a broad range of people from the school and community, including students, business people, and parents, to create a healthier school environment.

Measurement and Celebration of Successes

Once the plan has begun to be implemented, the School Wellness Council periodically assesses their progress and celebrates landmarks.

Importantly, schools repeat the six-step process every year to reinforce that taking action to enhance the health of the school environment is not a project; rather, it is the way that schools should “do business.” A sign of success is that health and wellness becomes an integral part of the continuous improvement processes conducted annually in the school building.

Funded primarily by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program currently works with more than 9,000 elementary, middle and high schools in all 50 states across the country. Nearly three-quarters of these schools have made measurable health-promoting changes in their schools. These positive changes have positively affected the more than 5.2 million students who attend Healthy Schools Program schools every day.

More Information

The Alliance’s Healthy Schools Forum is June 14 and 15, 2010.

About the Alliance for a Healthier Generation
The American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation joined forces in May of 2005 to create a healthier generation by addressing one of the nation’s leading public health threats – childhood obesity. The goal of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is to reduce the nationwide prevalence of childhood obesity by 2015, and to empower kids nationwide to make healthy lifestyle choices. For more information visit