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J Public Health Policy. 2009;30 Suppl 1:S141-60. doi: 10.1057/jphp.2008.50.

Early impact of the federally mandated Local Wellness Policy on physical activity in rural, low-income elementary schools in Colorado.

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  • 1Rocky Moutain Prevention Research Center, Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado Denver, Anschutz Medical Campus, Denver, CO, USA.


The What's Working project described the initial impact of the United States' federally mandated Local Wellness Policy in rural, low-income elementary schools located in Colorado. Before and after the Local Wellness Policy mandate went into effect, a survey about school features related to nutrition and physical activity was sent to a random sample of 45 rural elementary schools (i.e., schools located outside of urban areas), in which at least 40% of students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch. Overall, opportunities for physical activity did not change after the policy went into effect: although time in physical education increased by 14 min per week (P=0.10), time for recess decreased by roughly 19 min per week (P=0.10). Policies supporting student participation in physical education and recess (an unstructured time during school hours when students are allowed to play outside) did not change. The researchers coded Local Wellness Policies and found them to have weak wording that produced minimal impact. Content analysis of key informant interviews suggested several barriers to the impact of the Local Wellness Policies: (1) competing pressures facing school districts, (2) lack of resources devoted to the Local Wellness Policy, (3) principals' lack of knowledge about the policy, and (4) lack of accountability mechanisms to ensure policy implementation. Financial resources and more effective communication about Local Wellness Policies among school districts and principals are needed to elevate the importance of and increase opportunities for physical activity in rural, low-income Colorado elementary schools.

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