School Wellness Policies – An Opportunity to Address Obesity among Children from Low-Income Families

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Obesity is prevalent among all children in the U.S.; however, children who come from low-income families are especially vulnerable. Results from the 2009 Pediatrics Nutrition Surveillance System found that nearly one third of pre-schoolers (ages 2-4) from low-income families surveyed were obese or over-weight. Another national study found that poor children and adolescents are 1.7 times more likely to be severely obese.  These children’s families often have less access to markets with affordable fresh foods and their neighborhoods are often less conducive to physical activity and exercise.  Furthermore, their parents are less likely to be involved with the development of wellness policies in their children’s school districts, leaving it up to the district administrators or involved parents from other demographics to address the needs of low-income children at school.

Recognizing the critical role schools have in children’s health, the U.S. Congress has required that all local education agencies that participate in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs establish, implement, and document a wellness policy that outlines goals for food nutrition standards, nutrition education and promotion, physical activity, and other health and wellness activities.  School districts are required to design their policies with input from a broad group of stakeholders to ensure that all children’s needs are addressed and to foster community support.  Lower-income parents are often missing from this process.

Many barriers hinder low-income parents from becoming involved in policy making processes at their children’s school and school districts.  For example, their work hours are often long and non-traditional, they may be the only parent or adult in the home, transportation may be limited and expensive, and they may not be able to afford childcare while they attend meetings.  They may also face academic and language barriers that keep them from being part of the discussion.

It is imperative that school wellness policies take into account the needs of low-income families.  Children from low-income homes often rely on schools to provide nutritious meals that are not available in the home due to budget constraints.  Many low-income neighborhoods lack safe sidewalks, parks, and green spaces, making school the most-likely and safest place for children to play and get physical activity.  School districts that do not take these things into account may be missing opportunities to improve academic achievement and quality of life for these children.

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3 Responses to “School Wellness Policies – An Opportunity to Address Obesity among Children from Low-Income Families”

  1. mfmonn Says:

    I appreciate your choosing to post on this topic. I absolutely agree that school’s are in a quite unique position to really change the way we approach obesity in the US. Unfortunately, with so many budget cuts taking place in education systems around the country, many school systems are having to cut physical education classes which only compounds the obesity problem. We certainly need to reconsider our priorities and the use of our budget.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/01/27/earlyshow/contributors/debbyeturner/main669760.shtml

  2. 2011dawn Says:

    School wellness program should indeed pay particular attention to the needs/predicaments of children/students that come from under served populations. The success or effectiveness of any wellness program depends heavily on whether the target population can (have the ability to break through the barriers) access the resources (such as sources of healthy food and venues for physical activity) in order to achieve a healthful lifestyle. A one size fits all approach is not appropriate. Therefore, there should be provisions in the program that would accommodate the needs of underprivileged families. Their needs may be more organic & deeply-rooted and do not just point to unhealthy food choices and lack of information. It could very well be the lack of income, unavailability of neighborhood groceries, and safety in the neighborhood. in fact, a robust program should consider these key factors in helping any families battle nutrition-related problems such as obesity and overweight.

    Helpful link:

    http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/healthtopics/wellness.htm

  3. shairst3 Says:

    I agree that schools are in the unique position to make a significant positive impact on the lives of children. By teaching healthy eating habits, something that for a varied number of reasons maybe not occuring in the home, the school may significantly decreased the child’s risk for a number of life changing illnesses. Some of these healthy habits will hopfully find there way back to the home. The investment early on is well worth the decrease in total health care costs resulting from the reduction in chronic health diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

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