What is a local school wellness policy?

A local school wellness policy (“wellness policy” or LWP) is a written document that guides a local educational agency (LEA) or school district’s efforts to establish a school environment that promotes students’ health, well-being, and ability to learn. They are an important and low-cost approach for school districts to ensure robust implementation of the updated nutrition standards for school meals, snacks, and beverages as well as address other school foods and physical activity.

Since children spend many of their waking hours and eat up to half their daily calories at school, schools play a critical role in building healthy nutrition and physical activity habits that can last a lifetime. Additionally, healthy, active children also perform better academically and have fewer behavioral problems. LWPs are designed to implement the updated nutrition standards for school meals, snacks, and beverages, and address nutrition education, marketing of unhealthy food and beverages, physical activity, physical education, and recess.

LWPs were established by the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 and were further strengthened by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). Each school district participating in the National School Lunch Program and/or School Breakfast Program must develop and implement a LWP.

Schools are working hard to offer healthier meals and snacks. However, when it comes to LWPs, most school districts will need to realign their existing policies with the updated requirements. In addition, many school districts’ will need to strengthen implementation of their LWP to ensure that it is in effect in each school within the district.

What changed with the HHFKA?

  • LWPs will include a policy addressing marketing of unhealthy food and beverages (foods and beverages that do not meet the Smart Snacks standards).
  • LWPs will have enhanced community involvement:
    • Permit involvement in the LWP development by the general public and the school community (including parents, students, representatives of the school food service, physical education teachers, school health professionals, the school board, and school administrators).
    • Public availability of the LWP, notification of any updates to the LWP, and a triennial assessment.
    • Annual notification on content and implementation of LWP, which should include: the website for the wellness policy and/or information on how the public can access a copy; description of each school’s progress in meeting the wellness policy goals; summary of each school’s local school wellness events or activities; contact information for the leader(s) of the wellness policy team; and information on how individuals and the public can get involved.
  • LWPs will have enhanced compliance:
    • A school official must be designated responsible for compliance.
    • LWP will be included in the state’s administrative review of compliance with school meals and snack standards.
    • The school district must assess every 3 years on how the LWP compares to model policies and progress made in attaining LWP goals.
  • Given recent updates to national school nutrition standards for school meals, and snacks and beverages (Smart Snacks), most school districts will likely need to realign their LWP with the updated standards.
  • School districts were already setting goals for nutrition promotion, nutrition education, physical activity, and school wellness activities, but goals should be based on evidence-based strategies.

Resources and links