Healthy students learn better. Multiple studies show that school districts can achieve better overall test scores, grades, and attendance rates by helping students stay healthy by eating nutritious foods and being physically active.
One way to improve the health of Alaska students is helping school districts pass and implement a strong school wellness policy
(also known as a student nutrition and physical activity policy). Evidence of the importance of a strong school wellness policy is so clear that the federal government has mandated that every school district receiving funds for school breakfast or lunch has a current policy.
Alaska School Districts Putting Policy into Action
The Mat-Su Borough School District
is one district that recently approved a new wellness policy that limits the sale and marketing of sugary drinks and junk foods in schools, while increasing support for physical activity and physical education.
The Mat-Su district updated its wellness policy at the June 7, 2017, school board meeting. District wellness team member Jana DePriest was enthusiastic about the new policy.
“We want our students to be healthy and have every advantage to achieve their potential,” DePriest said. “This policy update is in line with efforts we’ve been working on in the district for years, from our 2015 health education curriculum update, our efforts to increase healthy options in school stores, and our partnership with the Mat-Su Health Foundation
for mini-grants to increase physical activity in schools.”
Mat-Su and other school districts across Alaska are putting their wellness policies into action. A few successes of Alaska school districts have been highlighted in the Play Every Day blog posts below:
Now is the time to help Alaska schools update their wellness policies
While most districts have a school wellness policy in place, new state and federal regulations mean most Alaska districts need to update their wellness policies. New regulations
from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) went into effect June 30, 2017. Rather than just requiring districts to have a wellness policy on the books, the USDA now requires districts to report on wellness policy implementation
, and gives additional guidance on involving the community in developing and updating these policies. Since 2014, the USDA Smart Snacks nutrition standards
specifically require that snacks and beverages sold in vending machines, school stores, snack carts, á la carte lines and fundraising efforts during the school day are nutritious and promote health. The USDA also now restricts marketing and advertising on school grounds using the same standards. If a food or beverage does not meet the Smart Snacks standards, it cannot be marketed or advertised at school. You can test your knowledge on changes to the USDA wellness policy guidelines with this six-question short quiz
A new law in Alaska also impacts wellness policies. Alaska’s Physical Activity in Schools Law (click here for full text
and more information
) went into effect October 16, 2016. All schools must establish guidelines to provide opportunities for nearly an hour of physical activity for students in grades K-8 during each full school day. Districts across the state are making creative changes to ensure that students are up and moving through physical education, recess, and in-classroom activities.
For more information about school wellness policies, contact Lauren Kelsey, Obesity Prevention School Partnership Coordinator, at email@example.com
Photograph caption: Nick Hanson, an American Ninja Warrior contestant from Unalakleet, visits Meadow Lakes Elementary in the Mat-Su Borough School District in 2017 to help students try some of his obstacles and teach them about the large amount of sugar hiding in sugary drinks.