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Organize a School Health Team

The school environment strongly affects the behavior, health and well-being of children. Parents can help schools create an environment that will encourage a child’s overall academic success by taking action to encourage healthy meal options and physical activity programs.

Join the School Health Team

All schools that receive support from the USDA are required to develop wellness policies that address school food service and physical activity. Many schools have working groups dedicated to improving the school’s health programs and policies. These working groups go by different names across the country, such as school health team, school health council, school health advisory council or wellness council.

Parent members of these groups play a crucial role in creating a healthful school environment. Call your child’s school and talk to the principal or PTA president to find out if the school has an active health team. If it does, find out how you can become a member. If the school doesn’t have a health team, help organize one.

For more information, the CDC’s Coordinated School Health Program and the Education Development Center offers tips and strategies for developing a school health program.

Learn More about Your Child’s School Health Status

The School Health Index is a self-assessment and planning tool that can be used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of health policies and programs at your child’s school. It can also help people who are interested develop an action plan for improving student health. Get started on a School Health Index for your child’s school today.

Understand “Competitive Foods”

Foods and beverages provided through school breakfast, lunch and afterschool snack programs must meet certain nutritional rules to receive federal money. However, kids can purchase non-nutritious foods in place of these meals. Many schools sell foods outside of the USDA school meals–in the cafeterias, snack bars and vending machines–that are not subject to federal rules. These foods are called "competitive foods" because they compete with healthier school meals. Foods commonly available in these venues include cookies, crackers, pastries and other high-fat baked goods, as well as salty snacks and sugar-sweetened drinks.

Opportunities for children to purchase competitive foods should be limited in schools. If competitive foods are available, they should consist primarily of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. A school health team or similar organization can help establish policies that implement the nutritional standards for foods sold outside of school meals.

Importance of Physical Activity in School

Schools are a key setting for kids to get their 60 minutes of physical activity in everyday, given the significant portion of time they spend there. Most physical activity for students can be provided through a quality physical education program and complemented by activities before, during, and after school, as well as in recess, other physical activity breaks, intramural and physical activity clubs, interscholastic sports, and walks and bike rides to school initiatives.

Some school leaders have expressed concerns that a comprehensive physical activity program is too expensive, particularly during difficult economic times and tight budgets. However, there are many low-cost or no-cost steps that school leaders can take to improve the physical activity environment for all students and to promote student health without compromising academic pursuits.