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Improve the Health of Schools

Many children consume at least half of their daily calories at school. As families work to ensure our kids eat right and have active play at home, we also need to ensure our children have access to healthy food and opportunities to be physically active in their schools. Because over 95% of young people are enrolled in schools, the school setting can offer multiple opportunities for students to engage in physical activity such as physical education classes, recess periods for unstructured play in elementary schools, afterschool programs, intramural sports programs and physical activity clubs. These opportunities are particularly important because they are accessible to all students, including those who are not athletically gifted and those with special health care needs.

With more than 31 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program and more than 11 million participating in the National School Breakfast Program, good nutrition at school is more important than ever. It is our nation’s largest feeding program. Let’s Move! to get healthier food in our nation’s schools.

Cities and towns can help students adopt healthy lifestyles by providing information and practical strategies. Here are some action step suggestions:

The HealthierUS School Challenge establishes rigorous criteria for schools’ food quality, participation in meal programs, physical activity, physical education, and nutrition education – the key components that make for healthy and active kids – and provides recognition for schools that meet these criteria. This nationwide award program, created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2004, recognizes schools that create healthier school environments through their promotion of good nutrition and physical activity.

Mayors and local officials can promote healthier food in schools in the following ways:

  • Encourage local school districts to participate in the HUSSC
  • Encourage all schools to provide a school breakfast program.
  • Support the development of a summer food service program.
  • Encourage participation in school lunch and breakfast programs.
  • Support upgrades or exchanges of school cafeteria equipment. For example, swap out a deep fryer for a salad bar.
  • Promote the expansion or improvement of nutrition education in schools.
  • Work to ensure that school cafeterias are designed to encourage children to choose healthier snacks and meals, including a free or reduced price lunch or breakfast.
  • Promote school gardens.
  • Promote farm-to-school programs and the incorporation of fresh food into school meals.