Health, wellness and nutrition remain essential to the world of education.
According to the 2019 National Youth Risk Behavior Surveys1 (YRBS), there is an association between healthy dietary habits and higher academic scores. The data from the YRBS shows that students in grades 9-12 who earn higher academic scores (mostly A’s) also have the following dietary patterns:
- 42 percent ate breakfast on all seven days (during seven days prior the completing the survey)
- 62 percent ate fruit or drank 100 percent fruit juice one or more times per day
- 66 percent ate vegetables one or more times per day
Habits, good or bad, are learned at an early age. Teaching children healthy habits, like the importance of brushing their teeth, stick with them throughout their lifetime. Taking time to teach children about the importance of wellness and nutrition at an early age is critical, as these lessons are more likely to stick with them throughout their childhood and into adult life.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) note “that the scientific connection between food and health has been well documented for many decades, with substantial and increasingly robust evidence showing that a healthy lifestyle—including following a healthy dietary pattern— can help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases throughout all stages of the lifespan: infancy and toddlerhood, childhood and adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy and lactation, and older adulthood.”2
Obesity and Food Insecurity
The DGAs report that about 41 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or have obesity. The 2019 Massachusetts YRBS data also shows that 24.1 percent of students that receive D/F letter grades also have obesity. The comorbidities associated with obesity (such as, but not limited to; high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea) also put these children at risk for a lower life expectancy. Food insecurity is also often interrelated to obesity, and as of November 2020, 1 in 5 households in Massachusetts are food insecure. Tackling childhood obesity and food insecurity requires a collaborative effort. Students spend most of their time in school, and access to healthy foods are increased through participation in school meals. When administrators and teachers choose to implement wellness practices, provide nutrition education and model healthy behaviors, students of all ages reap the benefits of these actions.
Why Wellness at School?
In 2004, Congress passed The Child Nutrition and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children Reauthorization. This act required schools participating in the National School Lunch and/or Breakfast Program to have a local wellness policy.
An updated local wellness policy acts as a district’s playbook for wellness initiatives. It is critical for administrators to be part of wellness policy meetings and assist with the goals of the policy. When school wellness “buy-in” comes from the top, teachers and families are more likely to engage and participate.
In 2010, Massachusetts legislature also passed An Act Relative to School Nutrition, which requires the establishment of a School Wellness Advisory Committee in every district. School Wellness Committee meetings are a great opportunity to engage families, teachers, students and the community. Administrators should work with wellness committees to report out wellness policy changes and updates. To learn more about the importance of health and academics, check out the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model.
- Dietary Behaviors and Academic Grades. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/health_and_academics/health_academics_dietary.htm. Published January 12, 2021. Accessed April 2, 2021.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
- Hunger & Food Insecurity in Massachusetts: Project Bread. Hunger & Food Insecurity in Massachusetts | Project Bread. https://www.projectbread.org/hunger-by-the-numbers. Accessed April 9, 2021.