Blog Post for: Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD
07/18/2006 | Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD
School Wellness Policies
This fall, there is a new federal law requiring all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to have a School Wellness Policy. The policy must address several components: nutrition education, nutrition standards for foods sold, physical activity, and measurement and evaluation of the policy. While the law says you must "address" each of these areas, it does not say specifically what you should do in each area.
So, one district may decide to ban all junk food, while another may set such lenient nutrition standards that there is no change in what is sold. I imagine that the reason for doing it this way was to maximize local control, but also force every district to at least form a committee to create a policy and engage in a conversation about each of these issues. The result, however, will be a wide array of policies across schools. In my town, I served on the committee that wrote the policy and it was fascinating to watch the process. We realized along the way that food was being sold or given out in schools for a number of different reasons. There were (a) the a la carte and vending items, (b) the fundraising, (c) the classroom parties, (d) the food used in the classroom as a reward (e.g., if the class is good, they get a pizza party on Friday), and (e) food used as part of the curriculum (e.g., foreign language or global studies classes having parties with foods from the country they are learning about). I was pretty happy to see either strict standards or complete elimination of food in each of these domains until we got to the curriculum uses. One teacher talked about how a student brought in Grandma's stuffed grape leaves to share with the class when they were studying Greece, and I suddenly remembered my own high school French class where we made a "Bouche de Noel" right before Christmas. It became clear to the committee that we didn't really know the extent to which food was being used as part of the curriculum across all of the grades, and where it may serve a meaningful educational function. So, the strategy our district decided to use this year was to do a study of every time a teacher uses food as part of the curriculum and then evaluate it at the end of the year to come up with clearer guidelines on how often and in what context this can be done. I feel good about this compromise because it allows us to distinguish between the gratuitous use junk food (such as handing out candy as a reward in class) and a potentially meaningful incorporation of food into our children's education.