There is widespread consensus among governmental agencies (1
), professional associations of dietitians and pediatricians (2
), and other experts (4
) that improvements in school nutrition and physical activity policies are needed to address the obesity epidemic among children. Numerous governmental agencies (6
), federal advisors (9
), national (10
) and local (14
) associations, and the food industry (15
) have responded to this concern by providing policy recommendations and strategies for schools to embrace. These policy recommendations are based on varying degrees of evidence, but represent the best available to date (5
). Examples of the evidence cited include examination of trend data (ie, from 1977 to 2001 the number of children 5 to 15 years of age walking to school decreased from 20.2% to 12.5%) (16
), expert panel consensus reports, and outcomes of large-scale school-based trials (ie, Coordinated Approach to Child Health [CATCH]). There is a general consensus among these agencies () that schools should have policies that ensure that students have access to healthful foods outside of the school meals program, provide adequate time to eat healthful foods with friends, adopt guidelines for foods served as part of school-sponsored events (parties, concession stands, after school), offer intramural activities and physical activity clubs, and promote walking and bicycling to school.
Nutrition and Physical Activity Policy Questions from the School Health Profile Questionnaire Utah Data (2006) and Policy Reference.
One recent federal initiative to promote implementation of these and other recommendations is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) School Wellness Initiative, which required that school districts participating in federally subsidized child nutrition programs (eg, National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program) establish a local wellness policy by school year 2006–2007 (17
). To be in compliance, districts must have developed and implemented local policies that include goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other school-based activities.
Professional organizations agree that all children should have equal access to programs that promote optimal dietary and physical activity habits while at school regardless of socioeconomic status (18
). However, the extent to which school policies in socioeconomically deprived areas are comparable to policies in areas with fewer socioeconomic challenges is yet to be determined. Previous studies have identified associations between schools serving a higher proportion of children with lower socioeconomic status and increased energy provided by the school lunch (20
), overall poorer school meal nutrient profiles (21
), and fewer healthful food advertisements at school (ie, salads, fruits, and reduced-fat milk) (22
The purpose of this cross-sectional study was to review whether select school nutrition and physical activity policies reported by middle and high school principals in Utah’s 2006 School Health Profiles survey differed by economic and geographic indicators at the school-district level (eg, free or reduced-price lunch enrollment, geographic location, and school size). The hypothesis, based on review of the literature, was that districts with higher free and reduced-price lunch enrollment or rurally located schools would have fewer of the recommended nutrition and activity policies in place.