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Student health and nutrition have become significant issues in education policy deliberations. Research shows that the majority of American youth are sedentary and do not eat well. These unhealthy practices can lead to learning problems in school and health-related problems that may begin during school-age years and continue into adulthood. Many states have begun developing nutrition standards to ensure that students are eating right and developing habits that will foster healthy living in the future. For example, 13 governors including Mike Huckabee (AR), Kathleen Babineauz Blanco (LA) and Bill Richardson (NM) specifically addressed nutrition in their 2005 state of the state addresses, which reflects the level of attention state leaders are paying this issue.

Since a large portion of a child's day is spent in school, providing children with healthy food options, sound nutritional advice, opportunities for physical education, and information about drug use and sexual health throughout the school day can be an important step toward good health.

Some of the major issues in children's health as it relates to education policy are exercise and nutrition. The Center for Disease Control has reported an increase in the frequency of type 2 diabetes in U.S. children and adolescents over the last two decades. Trends in obesity and a low level of physical activity among children and adolescents may be a major contributor to this increase. However, given tight school budgets, physical and health education often are viewed as less essential, especially when compared to math, science and reading.

In a domain that used to belong solely to families, state legislatures are now getting involved to have a say in children's health while they are in school. In 2005, 39 states considered legislation regarding health in educational policy. For example:

  • California passed a law that requires the State Board of Education to adopt, on or before March 1, 2008, content standards in the curriculum area of health education to incorporate nutrition education content into the curriculum framework with a focus on pupils' eating behaviors (the bill makes that duty contingent upon the availability of funding).
  • New Jersey adopted a law that requires, by September 1, 2007, districts to match their policies to the Model School Nutrition Policy. This applies to all vending machines, cafeterias, a la carte lines, snack bars, school stores, fundraisers and reimbursable After School Snack Program. It also prohibits foods of minimal nutritional value and includes a ban on soda, items listing sugar in any form as the first ingredient, and all forms of candy at any time before the end of the school day. The law requires reduction in the purchase of products containing trans fats and insists each school's curriculum include nutrition education.
  • California also established the Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act, which authorizes school districts to provide comprehensive sexual health education in any kindergarten to grade 12 class, and to ensure that all pupils in grades 7 to 12 receive HIV/AIDS prevention education.
This issue site provides valuable information on the broad range of health topics. Specific sections are devoted to What States are Doing including legislative language reflective of state legislative activity Selected Research & Readings and links to Other Web Sites.

Sources:

Education Commission of the States, State Policies Related to Student Health and Nutrition, May 2005

U.S. Government Accountability Office, School Meal Programs: Competitive Foods Are Available in Many Schools; Actions Taken to Restrict Them Differ by State and Locality, 2004

Action for Healthy Kids, The Learning Connection: The Value of Improving Nutrition and Physical Activity in Our Schools, 2004

 

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