Purpose: Public policies targeting the school setting are increasingly being used to address childhood obesity; however, their effectiveness depends on their implementation. This study explores the factors which impeded or facilitated the implementation of publicly mandated school-based physical activity and nutrition guidelines in the province of British Columbia (BC), Canada.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 50 school informants (17 principals - 33 teacher/school informants) to examine the factors associated with the implementation of the mandated Daily Physical Activity (DPA) and Food and Beverage Sales in Schools (FBSS) guidelines. Coding used a constructivist grounded theory approach. The first five transcripts and every fifth transcript thereafter were coded by two independent coders with discrepancies reconciled by a third coder. Data was coded and analysed in the NVivo 9 software. Concept maps were developed and current theoretical perspectives were integrated in the later stages of analysis.
Results: The Diffusion of Innovations Model provided an organizing framework to present emergent themes. With the exception of triability (not relevant in the context of mandated guidelines/policies), the key attributes of the Diffusion of Innovations Model (relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, and observability) provided a robust framework for understanding themes associated with implementation of mandated guidelines. Specifically, implementation of the DPA and FBSS guidelines was facilitated by perceptions that they: were relatively advantageous compared to status quo; were compatible with school mandates and teaching philosophies; had observable positive impacts and impeded when perceived as complex to understand and implement. In addition, a number of contextual factors including availability of resources facilitated implementation.
Conclusions: The enactment of mandated policies/guidelines for schools is considered an essential step in improving physical activity and healthy eating. However, policy makers need to: monitor whether schools are able to implement the guidelines, support schools struggling with implementation, and document the impact of the guidelines on students' behaviors. To facilitate the implementation of mandated guidelines/policies, the Diffusion of Innovations Model provides an organizational framework for planning interventions. Changing the school environment is a process which cannot be undertaken solely by passive means as we know that such approaches have not resulted in adequate implementation.