Does your school district have a wellness policy?

by Megan on Dec 17, 2012 in Advocacy, Nutrition | No Comments

Does the school district you live in have a wellness policy? Chances are, you’ve never thought about it. If that’s the case, I encourage you to find out and, if it does, to take a close look at the policy in place.

Across the nation, an increasing number of school districts across the country are adopting wellness policies that strengthen the rules around fitness and nutrition in their schools. In 2010, an estimated 81% of middle and 77% of high school students attended a school with an established wellness policy. The widespread adoption of wellness policies stems from the passage of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, which required all school districts participating in the federal school lunch or breakfast programs (aka: most schools) to create a wellness policy by 2006.

However, although many school districts now have wellness policies in place, most of those policies remain weak and are typically not in line with national recommendations. Additionally, according to a RWJF survey, only 1/3 of students attend schools with an actual plan for implementing their wellness policy.

Why am I bringing this up? Rather than waiting around for your state or city to do something to improve the health of your community, working to enhance your school district’s wellness policy is a great way to tackle the rising childhood obesity epidemic and impact the overall health of your community at the same time.

Let’s face it: schools play an absolutely critical role in the lives of our youth.Kids spend about half (or more, if you factor in things like school bus rides, after school activities, weekend school-related functions, etc) of their day in the school environment. How could improving a school district’s wellness policy not make an impact on the health of your community?

We know that changing the school environment makes a big difference in the life of a child. The types of food and beverages that are available affect their overall diets, weight, and caloric-intake. Providing adequate physical activity improves their health, academic performance and classroom behavior — plus it sets the stage for a lifetime of healthy living. Surrounding them with an environment free of unhealthy food and junk food marketing (including eliminating school fundraisers that involve selling or promoting unhealthy foods) sends a message that will impact their overall eating habits.

We know all of these things, and yet few wellness policies go so far as to meet national recommendations. For instance, a RWJF survey found that only 17% of middle school students and 14% of high school students attend schools with a policy allowing “only healthy foods” at student fundraisers. This is a huge missed opportunity to do the very best we can for the health of our children.

So how can you improve your school district’s wellness policy? The USDA has a decent (albiet slightly outdated) guide that serves as an excellent starting point.

Anyone can start the process to create a new wellness policy or update an existing one. By law, stakeholders from all areas involved (parents, students, representatives of the school food authority, the school board, school administrators, and the public) must be involved in the process. The USDA website walks you through all of the steps involved in the policy process — including researching your existing policy, creating a policy team, assessing your school district’s needs, and building awareness and support for your policy. It also provides examples of strong wellness policies.

(Note: If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading the 2012 Bridging the Gap: School Policies and Practices to Improve Health and Prevent Obesity report)

A Dilemma: (Not So) Healthy Public Health Events?

by Megan on Oct 23, 2012 in Nutrition, Other Health | No Comments

Originally, I sat down today to write a blog post about healthy school fundraisers. Instead, you’re getting a post about healthy (grown-up) public health events, or the lack thereof.

As someone who works in public health and often participates in walks, runs, and other charity events – I long ago realized that there was a problem with fundraising for public health. Shouldn’t fundraisers for causes like cancer and other public health issues model the very behaviors we seek to instill in others?

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It’s a McDonald’s world, we just live in it

by Megan on Oct 22, 2012 in Nutrition | No Comments

I’m sure the fact that I notice McDonald’s marketing everywhere I am is partly a product of my chosen career. However, just because I’m more consciously aware that I am being marketed to does not change the fact that we are, in fact, being bombarded by advertising. And McDonald’s is one of the biggest culprits.

Lately, I’ve been confronted with McDonald’s advertising everywhere I go. It’s on the billboards on my short drive to the metro station, it’s on the Metro on my subway ride to work, and now – it is even in my office. Or rather, on my computer and phone.

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This Week in Review

by Megan on Sep 28, 2012 in Other Health | No Comments

As usual, it’s been a busy week in public health! In case you missed them, here are a few things worth checking out.

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To shame or not to shame?

by Megan on Sep 27, 2012 in Advocacy, Other Health | No Comments

Everybody’s talking about the anti-obesity ads by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. The common headline typically saying something about having “sparked criticism.” That’s certainly true.

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#Winning: Tobacco-Free Campuses

by Megan on Sep 18, 2012 in Tobacco Control | No Comments

In case you missed it, last week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative (TFCCI) to “promote and support the adoption and implementation of tobacco-free policies at universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning across the United States.”

As of July 1, there are at least 774 100% smoke-free college campuses with zero exemptions. 562 are 100% tobacco-free. It’s been a long climb to get to where we are now, but I think the movement may have reached its tipping point. For years, organizations and advocates across the country have been fighting for tobacco-free, or smoke-free, college campuses. When I was an undergraduate at American University, I helped establish a Campuses for Clean Air initiative to advocate for a tobacco-free campus policy and served as AU’s representative on the DC-wide Campuses for Clean Air Council. So last week’s announcement shouldn’t be mistaken as the beginning of something new — but rather the culmination of years of work in the making. Currently, you can find resources scattered all over the Internet, but hopefully this new initiative will help centralize and unite those working for tobacco-free campuses across the country.

Last week, even my own alma mater, who has long refused to budge on the tobacco-free campus issue, acknowledged in a memo to the campus community that “increasingly it appears that smoke and tobacco free is the best option.” The university president specifically referenced that “an increasing number of universities have gone smoke and tobacco free.”

I have a feeling that it won’t be long before even the most reluctant campus administrations come to the same conclusion.

Using Facebook for Marketing Surveillance

Despite the wide sweeping changes to Facebook fan pages that accompanied the roll-out of the Timeline (and all of the changes since then), not a whole lot has actually changed. Fans still receive the majority of their information through the news feed, making the changes far less significant than the hype around them would have you believe.

But with the changes came one pretty useful feature for those of us trying to monitor marketing on social media – more public Insights.

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Drink Pepsi & become an athlete

by Megan on Sep 1, 2012 in Food Marketing Surveillance | No Comments

The message Pepsi is hoping you’ll subconsciously take away from these? If you drink our product, you can be just like these guys. Pepsi Max…turning ordinary people into famous athletes. After all, just ask any serious athlete and I’m sure they will tell you that it wasn’t their hard work that got them where they are today — it was all that Pepsi they drank.

Never fear, Pepsi is here

by Megan on Aug 31, 2012 in Food Marketing Surveillance | No Comments

Another ridiculous Facebook post courtesy of Pepsi. After all, what people in this country really need access to is… more Pepsi.

Pepsi says not to worry

by Megan on Aug 30, 2012 in Food Marketing Surveillance | No Comments

You know, just in case you thought they might be voluntarily reducing their portion sizes or something. 

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About Megan

My passion lies in empowering people to become advocates for a healthier world. I truly believe we can make a difference in our communities and that belief empowers me to seek out new and creative ways to create change.

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