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New USDA Rules to Improve School Health Environment: What They Are and What You Can Do to Get Involved.

 

Teaching children healthy eating habits is critical to their long-term health. Parents strive to instill healthy habits at home, and schools have worked hard to improve the nutritional quality of school meals, snacks, and beverages sold in schools. Schools, especially, play a critical role in promoting health and wellness which is the reason why, in an effort to make school environments healthier, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) released regulations concerning local school wellness policies, one of the four final rules that has the potential to create a positive impact on the health and wellness of school aged children.

Each school district that participates in the National School Lunch Program and/or School Breakfast Program is required to have a local school wellness policy for all schools under its jurisdiction. Because the policy is established at the local level, it should be used as a tool to guide the school districts efforts in promoting whole child health and wellness as well as meet the unique needs of each school within the community. Under the final rule for local school wellness policies, school districts must:

  • Establish wellness policy leadership who will have the authority and responsibility to ensure each school complies with the policy
  • Encourage participation by the general public including parents, students, food service representatives, teachers, school health professionals, and administrators in the development, review, implementation, and assessment of the policy
  • Review and consider evidence-based strategies in determining specific goals for nutrition promotion and education, physical activity, and other school-based activities that promote student wellness
  • Include nutritional guidelines for all foods and beverages available for sale on the school campus during the school day within the policy to ensure consistency with federal regulations as well as for other foods and beverages offered during the school day (classroom parties, snacks, or foods given as incentives)
  • Include policies for food and beverage marketing that allow marketing and advertising of only foods and beverages that meet the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards

The American Heart Association has been working with state and local partners to advocate for more comprehensive policies to support healthier school environments. Local advocate support is always needed to not only help bring awareness but to also lend your voice to the fight against unhealthy children in your community.  Want to get involved? Send an email to Jessica.Mahon@heart.org to sign-up to get helpful tips and ideas on becoming active advocate for change in your community.

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