More Schools Focus on Students' Health
> 10/22/2007 12:57:22 PM

The most recent results of the School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS), a government study conducted every six years, brings good news for anyone who worries about the health of students. Compared to data collected in 2000, schools across the nation have shown improvement on a number of health-related issues, including what kids eat in the cafeteria and how active they are throughout the day.

SHPPS evaluates trends in the school policies and programs at the state, district, school and classroom level and collects data from elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. The data they released this year demonstrates a number of improvements, especially in regards to nutrition and physical education. In 2000 only 4% of school districts prohibited the sale of junk food in school vending machines, but in 2006 that number had increased to 30%. The number of schools providing french fries as part of school lunches also dropped, from 40% in 2000 to 19% in 2006. The number of schools offering bottled water in vending machines or snack bars increased from 30% to 46%. In addition to providing kids with healthier choices at lunchtime, schools are also preparing foods using healthier practices, like removing the skin from chicken before cooking, and targeting the ways kids learn to view nutrition and physical fitness. The percentage of school districts that have banned the use of food as a reward has increased from 11% to 26%, and the percentage of states that have banned the use of physical activity as punishment has increased from 2% to 16%, with 56% of states discouraging this practice.

Despite these promising results, schools continue to lag in some areas, and more needs to be done in order to help kids improve their health. In terms of physical education, the results may seem positive at first. The percentage of school districts requiring elementary schools to teach physical education increased from 83% to 93%, and among schools that require physical education, 36% require students who fail physical education to repeat the class, an increase from 25%. Few schools, however, provide physical education every day, the recommended amount, and one-fifth of schools have not made physical education a requirement. Part of the problem may be that schools simply cannot fit more physical education classes into the school day. Fortunately, some schools have found ways of making physical education available to students and more enjoyable as well. More than 100 New York City schools have implemented Mighty Milers, a program run by the New York Road Runners foundation where children keep track of the number of miles they run during the school year and win prizes for reaching certain benchmarks.

Across the nation, schools have responded to worries that poor nutrition and inactivity during the school day exacerbate the health problems of children, and hopefully these promising trends will continue. If we can make schools into healthy environments, we can help students to make healthy lifestyle choices. Healthy students achieve greater success in school, and by focusing on the health of our students, we help them to improve all aspects of their lives.

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