HSC Urges Chicago Board of Education to Support Student Health and Learning with New Wellness Policy

October 23, 2012

Update, Oct. 24 — Great news! Today, the Chicago Board of Education passed the new wellness policy that we discussed in this post! You can learn more about the new policy here.

HSC urges the Chicago Board of Education to adopt a new school wellness policy being proposed at the Board’s October 24 meeting. This proposed policy builds on years of experience making changes to promote student health and wellness in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), particularly the district’s decision to support schools in meeting the high standards for healthy eating and physical activity set by the HealthierUS School Challenge. This policy is especially critical in light of the high rates of obesity and related illness that Chicago children face, and the increasing body of research connecting healthy eating and physical activity with academic success.

“Healthy students are better prepared to learn. By adopting policies that support student wellness, Chicago Public Schools has the opportunity to support not only children’s health but their learning as well,” said Rochelle Davis, President and CEO of Healthy Schools Campaign. “Creating health-promoting environments in schools is an important goal with practical solutions that we’ve seen work in Chicago. Simply put, the type of practical points proposed in this policy help schools make the healthy choice the easy choice. This is both a practical policy and one that positions CPS as a leader nationally in creating policy that supports health and academic success.”

The proposed wellness policy addresses nutrition education, physical activity, physical education and other elements of school wellness. Two years ago, CPS partnered with Healthy Schools Campaign and others to support schools in meeting the health-promoting standards of the HealthierUS School Challenge. Through this initiative, called Go for the Gold, more than 100 schools have achieved national recognition for school wellness practices or are well on their way to doing so. These schools have figured out how to incorporate nutrition education in the curriculum, provide more physical education classes, bring back recess and more.  

The proposed policy builds on this success by positioning CPS to support all schools in the district in making these practical changes for students’ health. The updated policy would create the infrastructure and support at the district level to ensure that schools are able to maintain these gains and more schools are able to benefit from improved wellness.

Over the last 15 years, studies have increasingly connected physical activity and healthy eating with schools’ core goals of learning and academic success. “An abundance of data now indicates that those children who are more physically active do better in school,” said Sarah Buck, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Chicago State University.  “Their test scores are higher, they are more able to stay on task, and they have higher self-esteem.”

The health-promoting changes outlined in the proposed policy have met with positive responses from parents when put into practice in schools.  Karina Macedo, mother of two children attending Greene elementary school located in the McKinley Park neighborhood, said, “As a mom, I know the importance of physical activity to my sons’ academic performance. They are better able to learn when they are re-energized with breaks like recess. That’s why I have been working with our school wellness team to create more opportunities for physical activity. The new CPS Wellness Policy would help advance parents’ efforts to make the school day healthier.”

Lilliana Hernandez, whose children attend Eli Whitney school, added, “After working with my school to implement more opportunities for nutrition education, I’m happy to see that the healthy habits I teach them at home are being reinforced at school. I urge CPS to continue making our children’s health a priority.”  

Given the powerful role of school environments in shaping children’s long-term health, Chicago’s medical community has also voiced support for the updated policy.

“The Illinois Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics is pleased that CPS and the Board continue to recognize the significant relationship between student health and academic achievement, and commend their efforts to make substantial improvements to its wellness policies that will remove health-related barriers to learning,” said Scott Allen, MS, Executive Director,  Illinois Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics.

To view the proposed CPS wellness policy, see page 19 of the Board of Education packet online at http://bit.ly/CPSOct24. To learn more or connect with parents, teachers and principals supporting wellness in Chicago Public Schools, contact Mark Bishop at 312-419-1810 or mark@healthyschoolscampaign.org.