The Importance of Providing Opportunities for Health Behaviors during the School Day

Darla M. Castelli, Jeanne M. Barcelona, Brittany Crim and Sheri L. Burson
  • Globally, full-day preschool and an increased academic focus are rapidly becoming the norm, thus depriving children of opportunities to engage in physical activity (PA) [1]. Children are spending their time outside of the home in the school environment, which presents an opportunity for schools, administrators, teachers, and child care providers to educate children about the importance of participating in PA and making healthy eating choices. One such approach is called Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) [2]. Figure 1 provides a framework to provide opportunities for 60 min of moderate-to-vigorous PA per day [3]. WSCC is ideal because it intertwines the desired outcome of academic success and prevalence of healthy behaviors, such as being regularly physically active and eating healthy. Particularly for youth, multicomponent approaches that include both school and family or community involvement have the most significant potential to make meaningful differences in the rate of PA participation [4]. Further, The Healthy Foods and Beverages in Schools campaign (Fig. 2) identifies smart snacks in school settings and opportunities in schools where healthy eating can be explained and practiced (classroom celebrations, events, and nonfood rewards). Overall, successful school interventions intended to increase PA and healthy eating include the following evidenced-based practice:
    • Supportive administrators who are invested in improving student health
    • Content-specific and ongoing professional development that increases teacher knowledge on PA and nutrition
    • Effective use of school and classroom environment to engage students in PA opportunities across the school day
    • Intentional teaching practices that embed routine PA across the school day
    • Teacher champions that organize, support, and encourage a sustained culture of health

    Fig. 1. The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child collaborative approach to learning and health [2].

    Engaging youth in health leadership opportunities that provide them with a say and a voice
    • Parental engagement that reinforces healthy eating and PA at home
    • Community partnerships that support and extend the shared culture of health
    • Evidenced-based curricula and data-driven instructional methods that support health behavior change in youth (i.e., SPARK, CATCH)