Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

A District Wellness Policy: The Gap between Policy and Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

A District Wellness Policy: The Gap between Policy and Practice

Article excerpt


This article examines the gap between a federally-mandated wellness policy and its practice in U.S. schools. To address the problem of childhood obesity, the United States government requires school districts to develop a District Wellness Policy (DWP) that promotes a healthy school environment, healthy food choices, nutrition education, and physical education. This cross-sectional study describes the policy interpretation process and the degree to which the policy has been implemented. Teacher survey results show the emphasis of the DWP is on creating a healthy environment but lacks the health, nutrition, and physical education components called for by the policy. Lack of funding, time constraints, high-stakes testing, and No Child Left Behind combined to undermine teachers in the policy's implementation. Policies are only as effective as the funding and support provided; therefore, it is crucial for district and school staff to prioritize wellness allowing students to learn and practice habits that support lifelong health.

Keywords: childhood obesity, education policy, District Wellness Policy (DWP), No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

1. Introduction

In the United States (U.S.), public school teachers have played a major role in addressing the health needs of our nation's children. For over two hundred years, schools have been the major institution of choice to address the societal and health issues of our times. From school and personal hygiene to communicable disease prevention and drug education, schools have been looked to as the solution for whatever ails us. The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher (1995), proclaimed that "schools are the only public institution that can reach nearly all youth; therefore, schools are in a unique position to improve not only the educational status but also the health status of young people throughout the nation" (p. 289). Currently, the major health concern in the U.S. is childhood obesity. Data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reported a significant increase in the number of overweight and obese children and youth in the U.S. Data reported for 6 - 19 year olds in 1980, show that 12% of U.S. children were overweight and obese (Lobstein, 2006, 2007). By 2008, that rate had increased to 38% (CDC, 2008). The increasing number of overweight children will have grave consequences for the future. Research suggests that "obesity is now the most prevalent nutritional disease of children and adolescents in the U.S. (Dietz, 1998)," and, it is only a matter of time before this translates into greater healthcare costs and a lower quality of life. Childhood obesity increases the risk of adult obesity, lifelong health risks, and adds considerable social and economic disadvantage (Dorsey, Wells, Krumholz, & Concato, 2005, p. 632). Children who are overweight or obese have increased risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes before the age of 30 (Morrill & Chinn, 2004). In addition to these physical ailments, overweight children deal with discrimination and social stigmas that hamper their mental and emotional development. According to Tommy Thompson, then Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, "overweight and obesity are among the most pressing new health challenges we face today. And, health problems resulting from overweight and obesity could reverse many of the health gains achieved in the U.S. in recent decades" (NIH, 2007).

To address the growing childhood obesity problem in the U.S., the 108th Congress set out to amend the Richard B. Russell School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. The amended Act is now known as the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. The Act is federal legislation designed to ensure a healthy school environment, healthy food choices, nutrition education, and physical activity for all schoolchildren in order to prevent childhood obesity. …

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