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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Do School District Wellness Policies Matter to Address Childhood Obesity?
by Richards, Karin, Ph.D., University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, 2016, 90; 10585742
Abstract (Summary)

Despite evidence of the importance of daily physical exercise in children, previous research suggests that school-based physical activity has not received appropriate attention from educational agency wellness policymakers. Researchers also found that school districts in Virginia and Maryland developed and implemented less structured goals and objectives for implementing physical activity than for nutritional standards.15 70% of school districts in Maryland and Virginia offer physical activity breaks, yet the overall strength of language within these wellness policies was weak with only 10% of the districts identifying specific techniques for implementing these physical activity policies. The literature indicate that food service policies such as nutritional education; USDA standards for school-based meals; and standards for competitive foods and beverages are the most comprehensive wellness policies with the strongest language mandating their implementation. No data was found examining the relationship between southeastern Pennsylvania school district wellness policies and childhood obesity rates. Many studies on school district wellness policies have taken a representative sampling of state or even national population and/or conducted qualitative assessments with district superintendents and other school personnel.

To address these gaps in the literature and provide an updated evaluation of school district wellness policies reflecting the 2010 implementation of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, our study utilized the validated WellSAT 2.0 rating system, a validated 78-item school wellness policy-coding tool, developed by scholars at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut; it allows researchers, school district-level administrators and advisory board members, academics, and public health professionals to quantify the comprehensiveness of content and the strength of language found in school district wellness policies.38 Our study consisted of three parts that evaluated the strength and comprehensiveness of 5,694 individual policy items contained in the school district wellness policies. Specifically, the study identified trends in school district wellness policies, compared and contrasted the strength and comprehensiveness of those policies, and examined the association between wellness policies and school districts’ K-12 obesity rates.

The first part of the study identified the strength and comprehensiveness of wellness policies in ten of the most populous public school districts in the United States. This segment discovered wellness policy trends in addressing childhood obesity in large metropolitan school districts, offering a primary evaluation of the most recently available school district wellness policies. The second segment included policy scoring of wellness polices adopted by smaller, public school districts located in southeastern Pennsylvania. This assessment provided the opportunity to compare and contrast scored policies among locally but demographically diverse based school districts, many of which are located in the same counties. Some of the best and worst health outcomes in the state of Pennsylvania are found within these five proximate counties.39 The exploration of an association between the strength and comprehensiveness of wellness policies through a validated rating system and aggregate childhood obesity rates among public elementary school students in southeastern Pennsylvania comprised the third part of the study. This segment allowed the researchers to propose carefully considered theories that assess whether school district wellness policies are actually associated with decreasing childhood obesity.

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the strength and comprehensiveness of school district wellness policies by: 1) identifying wellness policies trends in public school districts with large enrollments and at the local level, 2) determining the characteristics associated with the strength and comprehensiveness of the strategies adopted, and 3) exploring with the use of a validated rating system, whether there is an association between the strength and comprehensiveness of wellness policies and obesity rates among public elementary K-12 school students in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Becker, Julie
School: University of the Sciences in Philadelphia
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-B 78/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Education Policy, Public policy, Health care management
Keywords: Childhood obesity, School wellness policies
Publication Number: 10585742
ISBN: 978-1-369-64693-1
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