Strength and Comprehensiveness of School Wellness Policies in Southeastern US School Districts

J Sch Health. 2016 Sep;86(9):631-7. doi: 10.1111/josh.12416.


Background: In 2004, Congress passed legislation mandating that all public school districts participating in federal school meal programs develop a school wellness policy (SWP) to direct efforts related to nutrition and physical activity. We examined the extent to which SWPs varied in comprehensiveness and strength in a representative sample of school districts in the southeastern United States, the area of the country with the highest rates of childhood obesity.

Methods: Policies were assessed using an established 96-item coding tool by 2 raters to ascertain the comprehensiveness and strength of the policies as a whole, and across distinct subsections specified by federal legislation. In addition, variability in SWP comprehensiveness and strength was assessed based on district sociodemographic characteristics.

Results: Overall, SWPs in the southeastern states are weakly written, fragmented, and lack requirements necessary for healthy school environments. District size, which was the only sociodemographic factor related to policy characteristics, yielded an inverse association.

Conclusions: To encourage continued promotion of healthy school environments, school districts will require technical support to improve the quality of their school wellness policies.

Keywords: child and adolescent health; health educators; school health policy; school wellness; school-related legislation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Diet*
  • Exercise*
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration*
  • Health Promotion / standards
  • Humans
  • Organizational Objectives
  • School Health Services / organization & administration*
  • School Health Services / standards
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Southeastern United States