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Rural Health Information Hub

How Can Rural Schools Address Obesity?

Schools are an ideal setting for promoting healthy behaviors such as healthy eating, physical activity, and decreased screen time. Overweight or obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, and also more likely to have health problems like diabetes during childhood.

While it is important for children to learn healthy behaviors early in life, they also need access to healthy foods and opportunities to be active. This can be done by creating environments that provide nutritious meals and snacks, active recess, physical education, and health education. Examples of school-based interventions that help prevent and address obesity include:

  • Health and nutrition education
  • Increased recess time
  • Eliminating unhealthy food options from the cafeteria
  • Offering nutritious items in vending machines
  • Banning sales of sweetened beverages
  • Planting class gardens
  • Promoting biking or walking to school
  • School-based screening for obesity to aid in early detection and treatment

School-based interventions can also affect families and the greater community, both indirectly and directly. For example, children who learn about healthy foods at school may influence their families’ cooking practices. In rural areas, schools also serve as a focal point for community social activity and gatherings. Communities may be able to pursue joint-use agreements with school districts to use school buildings and playgrounds for recreational purposes when schools are not in session.

Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act
In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act, requiring all local school agencies participating in the National School Lunch Program or other child nutrition programs to establish a wellness policy for schools under their jurisdiction. No financial assistance was provided for implementation of these policies. As a result, rural and other communities often lack resources to implement meaningful wellness policies. In response, field experts created tools to assist school agencies in assessing wellness approaches, the quality of the approaches, and providing resources for improving policies. Links to these tools are available in the Additional Resources section.

Models for schools