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J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Nov;110(11):1712-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.08.004.

Early effects of the federally mandated Local Wellness Policy on school nutrition environments appear modest in Colorado's rural, low-income elementary schools.

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  • 1Department of Community and Behavioral Health, Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center, Colorado School of Public Health, University of Colorado Denver, 13001 E 17th Pl, Campus Box C-245, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.


To increase opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity, US school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program were required to create a Local Wellness Policy (LWP) by June 2006. The What's Working project described the initial influence of this mandate on nutrition environments and policies. In 2005 and 2007 (before and after the mandate went into effect), a survey about school features related to nutrition and physical activity was sent to a random sample of 45 low-income, rural elementary foodservice managers and principals. Schools averaged 204 students, 27% Hispanic. Districts' LWPs were coded for strength and comprehensiveness. In addition, key informant interviews were conducted with foodservice managers almost 2 years after the LWP went into effect. Three improvements were observed: increases in the percent of schools with policies stipulating predominantly healthy items be offered in classroom parties (21.4% in 2005 vs 48.7% in 2007), daily fresh fruit offerings in the lunchroom (0.80 choices in 2005 vs 1.15 choices in 2007), and the percent of schools using skinless poultry (27% in 2005 vs 59% in 2007). LWPs were weakly worded and rarely addressed energy content. Nutrition guideline elements most commonly addressed included vending machines, school stores, and à la carte food offerings. Seveny-three percent of foodservice managers were familiar with their district's LWP but did not perceive it changed lunchroom practices. Although LWPs offer a framework to support opportunities for healthy eating, few evidence-based practices were implemented as a direct result of the mandate. Schools need more information about evidence-based practices, as well as technical and financial assistance for implementation.

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