Wellness programs spread to schools

178095373After being inundated with “wellness” messages at work, I started walking more and have lost a few pounds. But it seems to me that children need to hear these kinds of things just as much as adults do. What’s happening in schools? 

Your experience isn’t uncommon. More and more workplaces have instituted wellness programs not only to help employees improve their health, but also to cut costs.

A 2010 analysis published in Health Affairs compiled results from 36 studies of such programs. It found that for every dollar spent on workplace wellness programs, medical costs dropped by $3.27, and costs related to absenteeism dropped by $2.73. In hard numbers, the return on investment seems clear. It’s more difficult to quantify the benefits of such programs in terms of quality of life, but if your experience is any indication, wellness programs offer those benefits, too.

Still, you’re right: Employer-based wellness policies can only go so far. To reach children and teens, schools seem an obvious choice.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012. Obesity rates for children and adolescents have tripled from just a generation ago.

Those are primary reasons why any school that participates in the National School Lunch Program or other federal child nutrition program is now required to establish a school wellness policy. A school wellness policy guides efforts regarding school nutrition and physical activity for students. Parents and other members of the public can provide input into the policies.

The CDC’s website offers a comprehensive overview of school wellness polices atwww.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/npao/wellness.htm. While there’s still much work to be done, evaluations indicate schools have been establishing environments that better support nutrition and physical activity. Examples include:

  • Restricting access to high-sugar beverages and other less-healthful foods from vending machines, school stores, cafeterias, fundraisers and in some cases even class parties.
  • Offering nutrition education at each grade level.
  • Offering physical education classes that promote a physically active lifestyle or focus on personal fitness.
  • Integrating physical activity throughout the school day, such as offering activity breaks in the classroom.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

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