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School Wellness Policies

SRTS Toolkit

School wellness policies are district-wide policies required by the federal government to help combat childhood obesity. Typically, districts develop a suite of policies relating to healthy foods and physical activity, which can easily include policies that promote active travel to and from school.

The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 established a new requirement that all school districts with a federally-funded school meals program develop and implement school wellness policies that address nutrition and physical activity.

In response to requests for guidance on developing such policy, the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity convened a work group of more than 50 health, physical activity, nutrition, and education professionals from a variety of national and state organizations to develop a set of model policies for local school districts.  They suggest that all school wellness polices include the following language:

Safe Routes to School. The school district will assess and, if necessary and to the extent possible, make needed improvements to make it safer and easier for students to walk and bike to school. When appropriate, the district will work together with local public works, public safety, and/or police departments in those efforts. The school district will explore the availability of federal “safe routes to school” funds, administered by the state department of transportation, to finance such improvements. The school district will encourage students to use public transportation when available and appropriate for travel to school, and will work with the local transit agency to provide transit passes for students.”


School wellness policies can promote a community culture that values health as an integral part of quality of life.  School district leaders can update the school wellness policy to include the trip to and from school.


The safe routes to school section of Marin County’s Office of Education Wellness Policy states, “Districts should encourage parents and students to walk and bike to school where safe routes are available and assist parents in organizing adult supervised groups. Parent and student groups may also consider assessing walking and bicycling access to their school and apply for funding to improve this access.”

The National League of Cities and the American Association of School Administrators sponsored a technical assistance project (2007-2009) designed to help cities use federally-mandated school wellness policies as the launchpad for the development of broader community wellness plans. In each case, mayors and school superintendents played critical roles in forming and sustaining local collaborations among diverse stakeholders. Read about the communities experiences here.



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