Connecticut State Department of Education Grades Schools on Health Promotion
The Connecticut State Department of Education recently released school wellness policy reports for all Connecticut school districts participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) child nutrition programs.
The report cards provide an overall score and rate the comprehensiveness and strength of each district policy in seven areas: nutrition education; school meals; other school food and beverages; physical education; physical activity; communication and promotion; and evaluation. The scores were calculated using a measurement tool developed by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University in collaboration with a number of researchers from universities around the country. The measurement tool and all districts’ report cards are available on the State Department of Education’s website.
Researchers from the Rudd Center are optimistic that their comprehensive school wellness policy evaluating tools can be used for the benefit of parents, students, and school districts throughout the country. These coding tools are free to the public and are available on the Rudd Center’s website.
In the Child Nutrition and WIC (Women, Infants and Children program) Reauthorization Act of 2004, Congress mandated that all school districts participating in federal school meal programs create and implement school wellness policies by July 2006. The federal law outlined the requirements that policies (a) promote student wellness through goals for nutrition education and physical activity, (b) set nutrition guidelines for all foods available at school, (c) be written by a district-wide team composed of parents, students, administrators, school food service members and the school board, and (d) establish a plan for measuring the implementation of its components.
The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity has taken the federal requirements a step further and created two comprehensive coding tools for evaluating school wellness policies: one that can be applied to any policy nationwide and one that applies specifically to Connecticut wellness policies. The coding tools look at whether schools institute a wide range of specific policies, such as:
- Integrating nutrition education into the cafeteria
- Providing physical activity opportunities for students throughout the day
- Prohibiting the use of food as a reward in the classroom
- Providing easy access to free drinking water
- Limiting the sodium, sugar, and fat content of foods served in schools
Overall, most Connecticut school districts met the federal requirements, but there was wide variability in how well they addressed each topic area. The district report cards include a comparison between the district score and the state and District Reference Group scores. District Reference Group (DRG) is a classification system that groups together public school students of similar socioeconomic status and demographic backgrounds. These comparison measures allow districts to see how they rate in comparison to other districts.
Schools that participated in the state-funded Healthy Food Certification program scored significantly higher on their policies in the areas of school meals and other school foods and beverages.