Since 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been rewarding schools for their efforts in creating healthier school environments. The HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms (HUSSC) is a voluntary, nationwide program established by the USDA to recognize schools taking steps to improve food and beverage options, offer nutrition education, and promote physical activity. Schools can apply for one of four award levels—Bronze, Silver, Gold and Gold Award of Distinction—and receive national recognition as well as a financial award, ranging from $500 to $2,000, based on the level of achievement. As of March 31, 2017, 3,644 schools across the country have been certified. The basic criteria for HUSSC as well as the application can be found on the USDA’s web site.
Broward County Extension in Florida has collaborated with several county partners to support certification of schools. These local partnerships and committee memberships have proven to be useful: membership in the District Wellness Committee, the public health department’s Nutrition and Fitness Task Force, the Broward County Comprehensive School Health Advisory Council (BCCSHAC), and collaboration with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). It is also beneficial to have the District Wellness Committee lead serving as an Extension advisory committee member, as well as gaining the support of a current School Board member.
One tool that a school or school district can use to demonstrate excellence in the school health environment is the school’s Local Wellness Policy (LWP), which may be a District-wide or School-based Wellness Policy. The LWP can set a standard for the particular school or district that meets or exceeds the HUSSC criteria, at least for the Bronze level. (HUSSC applications can be submitted by an individual school or on behalf of the district).
For example, the HUSSC application requires schools applying for the Bronze and Silver levels to offer at least 45 minutes of structured physical education per week. Including a clause that requires a minimum of 45 minutes of structured physical education in an LWP will help a school or school district demonstrate that they are meeting this requirement (assuming the school is in compliance).
Other clauses that can help the school or district meet the minimal Bronze-level HUSSC criteria include:
- Prohibiting the use of food as a reward
- The incorporation of Smarter Lunchroom techniques in the school cafeteria
- Prohibiting the denial of physical activity (i.e. recess) as a form of punishment
- The provision of nutrition education to all students
- Prohibiting the marketing of foods and beverages that do not meet the Smart Snacks criteria to students during the school day
Most importantly, the application requires each applicant to attach their LWP to the application and list three ways in which the school is working to meet their School/District Wellness policy goals. At a minimum, applicants should ensure that their LWP is in compliance with the requirements set forth by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
In any case, the HUSSC application is a great way to engage parents, school administrators, and district staff in a conversation about how their LWP can best support a healthier school environment. Comparing your LWP to this Model Policy created by Action for Healthy Kids, will help you identify how to make your policy stronger and more effective.
HUSSC certification is a big plus for the school district and Extension, leading to strengthened partnerships, educated youth and families, as well as a healthier overall population.
Angelika Schlanger, PhD, Public Health Coordinator, UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program
Brenda Marty Jimenez, MHM, RDN, LDN, FAND, FCS Agent III/County Extension Director, UF/IFAS Extension