Schools play a critical role in the health of our children and adolescents.
Schools can educate students about healthy eating and being active; offer healthy food such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables; adopt policies that prohibit unhealthy snacks; and provide opportunities for daily physical activity.
But Massachusetts, like many other states, faces a challenge. According to the Obesity Epidemic and Massachusetts Students
, a report developed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 25% of students were either overweight or obese, and 86% didn’t eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. In addition, more than half do not get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity five days a week.
The Department of Public Health has taken 2 steps in order to address this issue.
- The first involves raising parents' awareness about this issue. In 2011, all Massachusetts public schools began measuring the height and weight of students in grades 1, 4, 7 and 10 and using those figures to calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a screening tool used to help school nurses assess if a child has a healthy weight compared to other children of the same age and sex. These results are mailed or directly communicated to the parents or guardians of each student screened.
Children with a high BMI are more likely to become overweight or obese adults and be at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Helping children maintain a healthy weight may prevent serious illness later in life. To view the current results from the Body Mass Index Screening in Massachusetts Public School Districts, please see the The Status of Childhood Weight in Massachusetts, 2011
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. For more information about BMI screening in schools please visit our School Health Screening page .
- The second step involved developing nutrition standards for certain foods and drinks sold or provided during the school day. The Department of Public Health created a comprehensive guidance document Healthy Students, Healthy Schools file size 1MB
to help school administrators, teachers, school nutrition service staff, school nurses, parents, students, booster clubs, PTAs/PTOs and others implement the Massachusetts School Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages. The guidance document includes links to resources and features numerous examples from schools across Massachusetts that have already successfully created healthier environments for their students. Letter to Superintendents Regarding Implementation of Requirements at 105 CMR 225.200(A)(4)
The guidance document also features a customizable Sample Letter to Parents that explains what these new policies mean and why they’re being implemented, along with an "At A Glance" guide that sets out the new nutrition standards in an easy-to-read format. These documents are also available in Spanish and Portuguese for school administrators to communicate with parents in those languages.
Ready to start making healthy changes in your school? Use the resources listed below.
- Action for Healthy Kids is the only non-profit organization formed specifically to address the epidemic of overweight, undernourished and sedentary youth by focusing on changes at school. The Action for Healthy Kids Website features information, research, reports, facts and supporting materials to help your school become a healthier place. Here's the Massachusetts Action for Healthy Kids Team.
- Alliance for a Healthier Generation supports more than 7,800 schools across the U.S. in their efforts to create environments where physical activity and healthy eating are accessible and encouraged. This site has great tools and tips that will help make our children's generation a healthier generation!
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Nutrition, Physical Activity, & Obesity Schools can help children and adolescents adopt and maintain healthy eating and physical activity behaviors. CDC provides evidence-based guidance for schools on how to implement policies and practices that effectively promote healthy choices and behaviors among youth.
- Eat Well and Keep Moving is a multi-faceted curriculum developed by the Harvard School of Public Health. It is designed to use existing school resources to reinforce important messages about nutrition and physical activity for elementary school students through a variety of learning environments - from the classroom, cafeteria, and gymnasium to the school hallways, the home, and even community centers.
- Farm to School: Learn about a program to provide schools with fresh, locally grown foods that benefits school kids and farmers alike. See what schools are doing in Massachusetts.
- Let's Move Let’s Move! is a comprehensive initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama that’s dedicated to “solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.” The program combines comprehensive strategies with common sense and provides helpful information to foster environments that support healthy choices.
- Planet Health is an interdisciplinary curriculum focused on improving the health and well-being of 6th - 8th grade students while building and reinforcing skills in language, arts, math, science, social studies and physical education.
- Safe Routes to Schools promotes healthy alternatives for children and parents in their travel to and from school; and educates students, parents and community members on the value of walking and bicycling for travel to and from school. See what's happening in Massachusetts.
- School Health Index is a self-assessment and planning guide developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that schools can use to assess and improve their policies and programs related to physical activity, healthy eating, tobacco-use prevention, and safety.
- Team Nutrition is an initiative of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service that provides information on nutrition education, healthy eating and physical activity with support and materials for parents, teachers and foodservice professionals.