School Wellness Policies

Develop and enforce strong school wellness policies that limit access to unhealthy foods and promote healthy foods.


School wellness policies are important tools for parents, educators, and school districts in providing healthy options for children. In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, adding new provisions related to implementation, evaluation, and public reporting on local school wellness policies, which are required by law for all school districts participating in federally subsidized child nutrition programs. Districts must permit public participation in wellness policy design and make policies publically available.
Creating a strong, comprehensive school wellness policy is accomplished through collaboration between parents, school staff, administrators, and community members. This may include review and assessment of the current policy, evaluation of the school environment, policy revision, and implementation of policy components. To ensure that school wellness polices are implemented as intended, evaluation and follow-up are vital.

Components of a strong school wellness policy can vary and may include:

  • Meal nutrition standards
  • Restrictions on “competitive” foods
  • Competitive pricing of healthy foods
  • Lists of suggested foods for parties and fundraising events
  • Nutrition education requirements that include linking school meals and menus into a healthy food curriculum
  • Physical education and physical activity requirements
  • Policy monitoring and implementation requirements

Wisconsin Examples

Mt. Horeb Area School District: This school wellness policy recognizes that schools are essential in the health and wellness of its students. Along with the policy, the school district provides useful resources and ideas for parents and staff.

The Portage Community School District: This school district provides in-depth information on their school wellness policy to promote student wellness and prevent and reduce childhood obesity.

Equity in Practice

Recognizing Inequity: Schools with higher free and reduced lunch enrollment and schools in rural areas are less likely to offer or serve healthy foods. While schools may benefit from enhanced wellness policies, they may lack the resources to fully implement guidelines. Furthermore, although schools are required to allow public input into wellness policy development, not all school community members may know this and contribute.

Advancing Equity: All school districts are required to have a policy in place. Focusing on policy development and implementation in underserved schools may increase equity. Encouraging school community members (e.g. parents/families, food service staff, teachers) in wellness policy development and review can aid in creating and implementing culturally appropriate, enhanced wellness policies. Creating a diverse school wellness committee to review current policy can be a first step.

Implementation Resources

Local Wellness Policy Best Practices: This project of the Wisconsin Health Atlas highlights best practices to promote child health in school wellness policies and includes model policy language for six different policy areas.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction School Wellness Policy Page: This page contains information on local school wellness policy requirements as well as links to Wisconsin and national organization resources. Resources include a Local Wellness Policy Builder designed to assist schools in creating comprehensive school wellness policies that meet the final rule established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August 2016. The site also includes an online evaluation tool that allows Wisconsin school districts to generate a wellness policy report card for evaluating policy and communicating results.

Wisconsin Wellness: Putting Policy into Practice: This is an interactive, web-based toolkit designed to assist school districts with developing comprehensive policies that incorporate new policy requirements while establishing a framework for accountability.

The Wisconsin School Wellness Learning Collaborative: Through a partnership with The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, these schools work together to learn from state and national experts in school wellness and to learn from each other. All participating schools receive training on the Healthy Schools Assessment Tool and complete an inventory to help identify the strengths and opportunities for improvement at their school.

Growing a Green and Healthy School: A Guide For Schools: Green and Healthy Schools Wisconsin provides recognition for Wisconsin PK – 12 public and private schools and early learning centers working to reduce environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, and increase environmental and sustainability literacy through a self-paced, voluntary, web-based application.

The Wisconsin School Health Award: The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction offers this award as a way to recognize and celebrate schools with policies, programs, and the infrastructure to support and promote healthy school programming; parental and community involvement; and staff wellness.

5-2-1-0 Let's Go!: This nationally recognized childhood obesity prevention program offers a number of food and physical activity strategies for schools that can be incorporated into wellness policies.

Assessment Tools

WellSAT 2.0: This comprehensive national tool measures the quality of written policies. Users are provided with personalized guidance and resources for making improvements based on the assessment. The tool is also available as a printed document. This tool was the basis for Local Wellness Policy Best Practices, a project of the Wisconsin Health Atlas.

Smarter Lunchrooms Score Card: This is an environmental assessment and so does not measure the strength of school wellness policies, but could be used to supplement a tool like the WellSAT 2.0, or used as an implementation assessment for school cafeterias.

Alliance Product Calculator for Smart Snacks: This tool assesses whether a food item is compliant with USDA Smart Snacks in School Guidelines, based on product type and food labeling. It could be used during implementation of wellness policy guidelines around snacks and cafeteria foods.