USDA’s Recently Proposed Wellness Policy Rule

posted on Mon, Mar 17 2014 9:47 am by Kathy Wilbur, National Health Education and Policy Advisor

Five Things You Need to Know

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its proposed rule around Local Wellness Policies, strengthening the work that has been taking place in schools across the country since 2004. Local School Wellness Policies are important as they set the tone for many factors within the school environment. Here is a “cheat sheet” highlighting the key elements of the recently proposed rule:

  1. Invite More People to the Party
    The rule identifies the key stakeholders that should be involved in the development, implementation and review of the wellness policies, and specifically names of those who should be considered for the job of serving on your school’s wellness council. Parents, students, school food service representatives, physical education teachers, school health professionals, the school board and administrators are on the list. A diverse wellness council brings diverse skills and talents to the table.

  2. Take Required Courses
    The rule requires that certain wellness topics be covered in the school policy, including nutrition education and promotion, physical activity and other school-based wellness activities, such as staff wellness and farm-to-school programs.

  3. Give Wellness Policies a Report Card
    While it is extremely important to write a strong school policy, it is equally important to continue to assess the policy and identify areas where the district can improve. In fact, the first task given to a school wellness council participating in the Alliance's Healthy Schools Program is to complete an Inventory in eight Focus Areas to assess where they stand and then update their Inventory as progress is made.

  4. Show Your Work!
    Once the wellness policy is developed and assessed, communicate progress. Under the proposed rule, school districts will be prompted to report out on how they are measuring up compared to their written policies. This is a great opportunity to showcase success and ask for help in areas where there may be gaps.

  5. Get an “A” in Marketing
    A new provision of the rule focuses on food and beverage marketing and advertising in schools. On July 1, 2014, the USDA Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards will be in place for all foods and beverages sold outside of the school meal such as vending machines, school stores and snack bars. The marketing provision within this rule simply states, if you can’t sell it, don’t market it. This is an excellent chance to update signs, posters, vending faceplates and other branding around the school building to align with the Smart Snacks nutrition standards.

Effective school policy makes physical activity and healthy eating sustainable practices while including students and families to make sure the diverse needs of your community are met. While the federal requirements for school wellness policies are being finalized, it is a perfect time to get a jump start on shaping up your school wellness policy with the help of the Alliance’s expert advice and resources.