Healthy School Environment

Schools are one of the primary locations for reaching the nation's children and youth. In 2000, 53.2 million students were enrolled in public and private elementary and secondary schools in the United States. In addition, schools often serve as the sites for preschool, child-care, and after-school programs. Both inside and outside of the classroom, schools present opportunities for the concepts of energy balance to be taught and put into practice as students learn about good nutrition, physical activity, and their relationships to health; engage in physical education; and make food and physical activity choices during school meal times and through school-related activities.

All foods and beverages sold or served to students in school should be healthful and meet an accepted nutritional content standard. However, many of the "competitive foods" now sold in school cafeterias, vending machines, school stores, and school fundraisers are high in calories and low in nutritional value. At present, federal standards for the sale of competitive foods in schools are only minimal.

In addition, many schools around the nation have reduced their commitment to provide students with regular and adequate physical activity, often as a result of budget cuts or pressures to increase academic course offerings, even though it is generally recommended that children accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Given that children spend over half of their day in school, it is not unreasonable to expect that they participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity during the school day.

Schools offer many other opportunities for learning and practicing healthful eating and physical activity behaviors. Coordinated changes in the curriculum, the in-school advertising environment, school health services, and after-school programs all offer the potential to advance obesity prevention. Furthermore, it is important for parents to be aware of their child's weight status. Schools can assist in providing BMI, weight, and height information to parents and to children (as age appropriate) while being sure to sensitively collect and report on that information.

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