Strong written school wellness policies lead to better food and more physical activity in schools, according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Published in the Journal of School Health, the study found that districts with strong and clearly written school wellness policies are more likely to actually implement better nutrition education, higher nutrition standards for school meals and other food at school, and more opportunities for physical activity.

The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act requires that all school districts inform and update the public about the content and implementation of their local wellness policies during the 2011-2012 school year.

Yale researchers collaborated with the Connecticut State Department of Education to collect and analyze the written wellness policies from 151 Connecticut school districts, and compared them to school principal reports of how well nutrition and physical activity policies were implemented in their schools. 

Statewide, school nutrition and physical activity practices improved in the first year of school wellness policy implementation. The districts that had stronger, more comprehensive policies were more successful in implementation than those with weaker policies. 

Researchers found that urban districts with higher rates of free and reduced-price lunch eligibility developed significantly stronger written policies than other districts. Researchers assert that urban districts may have taken the task more seriously due to concerns over elevated rates of obesity and other health issues among their students.

“The new law requires that schools communicate what they are doing to promote student wellness,” says lead author Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Yale Rudd Center. “I encourage all parents to get in touch with their school district’s wellness committee and find out what is written in your district’s policy. It really can make a difference.”

The full study may be read here.