As autumn approaches, many children are heading back to school. Because children spend much of their time in classrooms, schools are an ideal setting to teach and model healthy behaviors. As children across the country get ready to return to school, parents and staff can gear up to improve the health of students and help them achieve academic success.
There are a number of ways parents and the school staff can make healthy living easier where kids learn and play. Small changes such as incorporating fun movements into short “physical activity” breaks between lessons or adding more healthy options in the cafeteria can have a collective impact on a school’s environment. Michelle Jones, a mother of two students at Roots Charter School in Washington, DC, recognized the need for the school to provide more opportunities for physical activity throughout the school day. “The obesity rate among children is at an all-time high, so getting our kids to be active is more crucial than ever,” said Michelle. “I want to make sure my children live their lives to the fullest, and getting exercise can help them do that.”
Michelle met with other parents to form an advisory council that works with local schools to host events focusing on health and wellness. Activities like yoga, Zumba, and farm-to-school programs inspire students, parents, and community members to be physically active and make healthier food choices.
Such improvements can help prevent obesity—a serious and growing public health concern that increases a child’s chance of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.
With help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), communities all over the country are making improvements in school wellness. When it comes to nutrition, schools are raising the standards to make school breakfast and lunch healthier. For example, the Tri-County Health Department in Colorado has worked with 14 school districts in the area to ensure healthier foods and beverages are served in school. Schools are now offering nutritious fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat milk. The districts also encourage non-food or healthy food-related parties or rewards in the classroom.
Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Health has made healthier foods and beverages available to students at schools across the state, even in the most rural areas. Schools are decreasing sodium, saturated fat, and sugar intake and increasing access to fruits and vegetables, through farm-to-school programs, school gardens, and salad bars.