Learning and Health

School Nutrition Environment and Services

Nutrition is essential for student success. Healthy, active, and well-nourished children are more likely to attend school and are more prepared and motivated to learn. Although the primary responsibility of schools is to foster academic achievement, schools have an exceptional opportunity to guide children toward healthier lifestyles by creating a healthy nutrition environment.

The school environment should encourage all students to make healthy eating choices and be physically active throughout the school day. We know schools cannot be responsible for the health and safety of their students at all times (such as when students area at home or out in the community); however, schools can and should ensure that students learn the knowledge and skills needed to make healthy decisions. School leaders can help encourage this by helping students make healthy choices using policies and practices that create a school environment that supports clear expectations for healthy behavior by faculty and staff, as well as students.

The goal of the new Whole School, Whole Community, and Whole Child (WSCC) model developed by ASCD and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to support behaviors that enhance the health and well-being of students and staff through learning opportunities that help students acquire not only the knowledge, attitudes, and skills of a health-literate individual, but also the motivation to behave in healthy ways. The WSCC model will establish an environment within the school that extends to the family and community and enables, motivates, supports, and reinforces healthy behaviors. It will bring together schools and the resources of other public institutions, including voluntary health and youth-serving agencies, the medical profession, the faith community, and local governments—all of which are responsible for providing the community with assets to help children become healthy, happy, productive adult citizens.


Reducing Junk Food Without Hurting the Bottom Line

To illustrate how schools and districts can implement strong nutrition standards for competitive foods without significant financial losses, the CDC supported a study by the Illinois Public Health Institute (IPHI) and the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) to examine eight school districts across the country. IPHI published findings and case studies in the report Controlling Junk Food and the Bottom Line: Case Studies of Schools Successfully Implementing Strong Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages. Schools can use this resource to find examples of implementation strategies used to overcome challenges and support strong nutrition standards in schools.

Increasing Water Access

The CDC's new tool kit, Increasing Access to Drinking Water in Schools (PDF), helps schools make the healthy choice the easy choice for all students by ensuring access to free drinking water as an alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages before, during, and after school. The easy-to-use tool kit includes needs assessment tools, implementation strategies, and evaluation guidance to improve access to drinking water as part of a healthier nutrition environment in schools.

Drinking water in place of sugar-sweetened beverages can help students stay hydrated and may improve cognitive function. Children and adolescents spend much of their time at school, and when schools provide access to healthier choices, students can stay healthy and ready to learn.

Take Action

Smart Snacks in Schools Rolls Out on July 1

Competitive foods, or those that are sold outside of the school meal program, are widely available in schools through a variety of venues and are the primary source of low–nutrient, energy-dense (junk) foods in schools. Students attending schools that sell foods with low nutritional quality and sugar-sweetened beverages have lower intake of fruits, vegetables, and milk at lunch; lower daily intake of fruits and vegetables; and higher daily percentage of calories from total fat and saturated fat.

Under the new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) "Smart Snacks in Schools" nutrition standards, America's students will be offered healthier food options during the school day. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools—beyond the federally-supported meals programs. "Smart Snacks in Schools" is an important step to ensure that students have access to only nutritious foods outside of the school meal program as recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Learn more in this infographic (PDF).

Food for Thought: What the SNAP Cuts Mean for Students and Schools

Research shows that students with access to good nutrition have higher school attendance records, are better able to focus, and are consistently more engaged than students with poor nutrition. Even so, Congress approved and President Obama signed a farm bill reauthorization that cuts funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

A recent issue of ASCD's Policy Points (PDF) explores how the $8.6 billion cut to SNAP over 10 years could affect the nation's students and make them even more reliant on school meal programs. The publication also details nutrition's influence on learning, explains the farm bill provisions related to school nutrition programs, and includes an infographic of up-to-date SNAP statistics.

Whole Child Snapshots Provide State and National Pictures of Child Well-Being

To thrive in today's global society, children need personalized support, safe environments, good health, and challenging learning opportunities. Adequately preparing students for their future requires a more comprehensive approach to education that recognizes the crucial in-school factors and out-of-school influences that affect teaching and learning. Such an approach requires the collaboration and shared responsibility of families, schools, communities, and policymakers.

To support conversation, collaboration, and change, ASCD has released Whole Child Snapshots highlighting how well each U.S. state—and the nation—is meeting the comprehensive needs of its children. The snapshots feature data aligned with the five tenets of ASCD's Whole Child Initiative—healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Together, the data provide a fuller picture of child well-being that extends beyond standardized test scores. The snapshots also suggest initial ideas for how communities can make targeted and innovative improvements to support the whole child and help their students become college, career, and citizenship ready. To see each indicator and the full Whole Child Snapshot for each state, visit www.ascd.org/wholechildsnapshots.

Have you signed up to receive the monthly ASCD Learning and Health newsletter? Created in partnership with the CDC, this newsletter looks further into each of the new Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model components and helps promote the alignment, integration, and collaboration of the education and health sectors to improve each child's cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development.

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