The Leadership Role in School Health

From the National School Boards Association

The facts are staggering: National childhood obesity rates have roughly tripled during the last 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 19 percent of children ages 6 to 11 were overweight in 2004, compared to 6.5 percent in the mid-1970s. Obesity rates for teenagers rose from 5 to 17.6 percent during the same time period.

This alarming rise holds true across the board for white, black, and Hispanic children, and numerous studies have shown that overweight children are more likely to experience serious health problems as adults. What that prognosis means is that this generation of children may be the first in our nation’s history to live sicker and shorter lives than their parents.

Evidence also links obesity-related factors such as poor nutrition and lack of physical activity to reduced concentration and behavioral problems that impact a student’s ability to focus in the classroom. Simply put, healthy students learn better.

School districts must address wellness issues now, and school leaders recognize this need. Progress or Promises? What’s Working For and Against Healthy Schools, a comprehensive report by Action for Healthy Kids, suggests that educators are more aware of student nutrition, physical fitness, and health issues than ever before. The report also indicates, however, large gaps in perception between school leaders and other groups about the state of wellness in our nation’s schools.

It’s encouraging that “wellness” is on the lips and in the minds of more school leaders. But schools can’t --  and shouldn’t --  address childhood obesity and wellness on their own. Efforts to address childhood obesity best involve everyone from families to businesses, from civic organizations to state and local policymakers.

As school leaders, you are uniquely positioned to make important policy changes in one of the most important environments for children and youth --  schools. This special section of American School Board Journal presents three important topics for you to consider in your work: advocating for school wellness, promoting sustainability for district wellness programs, and collaborating with community and national partners.

Incredible strides already have been made toward school leadership that fosters health and wellness for all students. But there is still much more to be done. Join us in working toward a healthier future for our children and our nation.


Brian K. Perkins, Co-Chair
NSBA Leadership for Healthy Communities

Carmen J. Piñeyro, Co-Chair
NSBA Leadership for Healthy Communities

From Leadership for Healthy Communities

Twenty-five million children and adolescents across the country are obese or at risk for obesity. Studies show that many of these children have early warning signs for heart disease and are at increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

School board members, in particular, have taken a leadership role in providing direction, oversight, and accountability for addressing the serious consequences associated with childhood obesity. For example, a 2007 study commissioned by the California School Boards Association and California Project LEAN found that a vast majority of school board members have been actively involved in researching the issue as well as in reviewing, developing, and approving district policy addressing wellness. The study also found that most school board members were confident in their district’s ability to develop, implement, and monitor their wellness policies. This is good news.

The continued involvement of school leaders means that these policies are likely to make a positive difference in the health of children. But school officials cannot reverse the obesity epidemic by themselves. Children are also a product of their home, community, and social environments. Their health status is influenced by a variety of factors including how much time they spend in front of the television, what they eat and drink in their out-of-school time, and whether they have safe places to play after school, on weekends, and in the summer.

This means that everyone --  from mayors and parents to county, state, and federal officials --  have a role in ensuring that our kids have access to healthy environments wherever they are. By improving these environments, our nation’s policymakers will not only benefit students’ health but also their academic achievement, which has been linked to nutrition and physical activity behaviors.

Leadership for Healthy Communities is committed to advancing the well-being of children by highlighting the positive efforts of school, city, county, and state leaders, promoting collaboration among these leaders; and providing them with tools and resources to advance policies that support healthy eating and active living.

We are especially pleased to support the National School Boards Association given its important work on behalf of our nation’s schools and children. Ultimately, we expect that our collective and coordinated efforts will result in healthy schools, healthy communities, and healthy children.


Maya Rockeymoore, Ph.D.

By Bruce Buchanan

School board members have long held themselves accountable for making sure that students are learning. Now, all across the country, they are taking the lead in ensuring that the next generation is healthy and fit by advocating for policies and procedures that promote good nutrition, physical fitness, and overall healthy living.

The need for such advocacy is apparent. Earlier this year, Action for Healthy Kids released Progress or Promises? What’s Working For and Against Healthy Schools, a comprehensive report on the state of student wellness. The report found that educators, parents, and students are perhaps more aware of school health issues than in the past, but too little is actually being done to address these issues.

According to the report, students still aren’t getting enough exercise and still don’t eat a healthy diet while at school. Compounding matters are communication challenges and vastly different perceptions between schools and parents of how well a school is promoting health, as well as the age-old challenges of finding time and money to implement student health programs.

But progress is being made in school districts of all sizes, regions, and demographics. And in nearly every case, a vocal advocate for student wellness is leading the charge.

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