Overweight and obesity in children are worrying health concerns.
One way that public health programs can help address this is through schools. Schools are an important way to help reach children and their families to promote good health and nutrition habits.
A healthy school environment can benefit students, and this is where school health wellness policies can play a meaningful part.
School physical education programs result in higher levels of physical activity. In the same way, wellness policies that promote increased access to healthier foods and limit access to unhealthy foods have been linked to lower energy intake and improved diet quality for foods eaten at school.
Extending the research into school wellness programs, United States researchers looked at how effective these were in arresting growing obesity rates.
The study ran for 3 years and followed nearly 600 students from 12 schools in Connecticut involving children from fifth through to eight grades.
The types of nutritional interventions in the schools included the provision of meals that met federal nutritional guidelines, providing nutrition newsletters for students and their families, campaigns to limit sugary drinks and promote water instead, and curtailing the use of food or beverages as rewards for academic performance or good behaviour.
In schools which had implemented health and nutrition policies and programs, the students had a healthier trajectory in their body mass index.
Implementing school-based health and nutrition policies aimed at helping to curb obesity are effective in helping to limit excess weight gain.
What this meant was the students were gaining less excess weight over time compared to children at schools which did not have robust health and wellness policies.
Nutrition and health policies did not just have a favourable effect on excess weight gain. Children at schools with nutrition policies were eating more healthily with fewer unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages consumed. The children were also less likely to eat at fast food restaurants outside of school.
This study provides some of the strongest evidence to date that nutrition and health education programs which promote healthy eating behaviours as part of a whole school environment approach can have a meaningful impact on children’s health.
This will help guide future interventions and policy implementation in schools—translating science into the improved health of children.