Over the last several years, more schools nationwide have begun implementing nutrition and health policies and requiring physical education programs, according to a report released Monday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC reported that more schools are cracking down on the types of companies that can advertise on school grounds and what types of food are available in vending machines. Since 2006, there has been a 13 percentage point decrease in the number of school districts that allow soft drink companies to advertise on campus, and a 13.6 percentage point increase in the number of districts that prohibit offering junk food in vending machines.
The report says behaviors that often put young people at risk for morbidity and mortality are established during childhood and adolescence, so mitigating these behaviors should be done during the six hours a day they spend in school.
"Schools play a critical role in promoting the health and safety of young people and helping them establish lifelong healthy behavior patterns," the report says.
Schools have also been promoting nutrition services and making that information more available to families and students. The majority of school districts made menus available to students and families that include the caloric content of foods available to them, and about half promoted ideas for nutrition-related events to inform students about food safety and healthy eating.
Since 2000, the number of school districts that made this information available to students and families increased by 17.4 percentage points, to 52.7 percent in 2012.
At the same time, schools are also pushing for physical education to start at an earlier age. Since 2000, there has been a 11 percentage point increase, up to 93.6 percent, in the number of school districts that require elementary schools to teach physical education and a nearly 20 percent increase in the number of districts that recommend or require elementary schools to test students' fitness levels. However, just under two-thirds of school districts do not require that elementary schools test students' fitness.
These results "indicate both progress and room for further improvements in school physical education and physical activity," the report says. Although more than 90 percent of districts have policies that require elementary, middle and high schools to teach physical education, they still allow exemptions for many different reasons, such as scoring high on physical fitness tests, enrolling in other academic courses or participating in community service activities.
"Exemptions decrease the perceived importance of and support for participation in physical education for all students and also reduce opportunities for students to accumulate more physical activity in their daily lives," the report says. "CDC recommends that such waivers and exemptions not be used."