Rahm Emanuel on School Wellness: How Will Chicago’s New Mayor Shape Policy for Healthy Eating and Ph

May 16, 2011

Today, Chicagoans had a new mayor sworn in for the first time in 22 years as Rahm Emanuel takes on the role that Richard M. Daley held since before the city’s schoolchildren were born. For those children, this historic transition and the new mayor’s policies have the potential to shape their school experience — including school food, nutrition education, recess and opportunities for physical activity. In Chicago, the mayor plays a particularly close role in shaping the school system. Incoming mayor Emanuel is appointing a new leadership team for Chicago Public Schools: a new CEO and senior staff and a new Board of Education.

We invite you to view HSC’s policy recommendations [pdf] for the new mayor and the city’s education leaders.

During the mayoral campaign, Rahm Emanuel answered several questions from HSC about his priorities related to health disparities, healthy eating, physical activity, recess, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative and green schools. Now, we invite you to view his comments on these issues:

Question: Studies consistently document the powerful connection between health and academic achievement. Healthy, active and well-nourished students are more likely to attend school and be engaged and prepared to learn, yet many students come to school with one or more health problems that compromise their readiness to learn. Health problems like obesity and asthma disproportionately affect the educational opportunities and outcomes of minority youth. In Chicago, 86 percent of the district’s more than 400,000 pupils are low-income students of color. As our next mayor, what will you do to prioritize and improve the health of the district’s students and address health disparities? What role will the school district and our city’s 675 schools play in improving the health of Chicago’s young people?

Answer: As Mayor, I will task the next CEO of Chicago Public Schools with evaluating the performance of all CPS contractors, including foods vendors. I will work with the next CEO to identify the best provider of school lunches that are both nutritious and flavorful. Also, as part of my plan to keep kids off street corners after school, I would require that after school programs offer a “third meal,” in the form of a snack or hot meal. These extra meals would be paid for using federal funding.

Question: Michelle Obama, a proud graduate of the Chicago Public Schools, has launched Let’s Move, a campaign to reverse the crisis of childhood obesity and improve the health of this country’s young people. Mrs. Obama is calling upon cities and schools to create opportunities for children to eat healthful food, learn about healthy eating and be active. As our next mayor, what will you do to address the problem of childhood obesity? How will you support efforts that are currently underway in the Chicago Public Schools to improve the school food and fitness environment?

Answer: As Chief of Staff to President Obama, I saw firsthand the inspiration and passion the First Lady brought to fighting childhood obesity. By expanding access to healthy food and providing opportunities for daily exercise, we can begin to address this crisis. Too often, recess is the first program cut by schools operating on tight budgets with a shortened day.

I have already outlined my commitment to lengthening the school day and expanding access to athletic programs. I will work with the teachers' union to lengthen the learning day and school year because it's the right investment in our children. I have also outlined a detailed plan to expand afterschool programming to all CPS students who want it. It will be comprehensive: Five days a week, two-and-a-half hours a day with opportunities in the arts, academics and athletics.

Question: Research shows that school facilities have a major impact on students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach. Many of Chicago’s school buildings need significant upgrades or repairs, for issues ranging from inadequate lighting or poor acoustics to unhealthy indoor air or even general disrepair. At the same time, Chicago Public Schools has taken on the practice of ensuring that new school facilities are built to meet health-promoting environmental standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council. As our next mayor, what will you do make sure that school facilities support student health and achievement, and will you continue the practice of requiring that newly constructed school buildings meet environmental standards?

Answer: Adequate school facilities are essential to keeping students motivated and in the classroom. As Mayor, I will continue the practice of requiring that newly constructed buildings meet the appropriate environmental standards. I will also task the next CEO of Chicago Public Schools with evaluating the performance of all CPS contractors, including those responsible for school facilities.

With a new mayor, a new CEO of Chicago Public Schools and a new Board of Education, the city-wide dialogue on education includes several issues — such as the possibility of extending the school day — that have a direct impact on school wellness. In the weeks ahead, we will continue to share updates on this transition. HSC will continue to advocate for healthy eating and physical activity in Chicago schools; we look forward to working with the city’s leadership to ensure that the city’s schoolchildren have school environments that support their health.