Tips to Create Healthier School Environments

kids running

It is clear that schools can serve as a great venue to encourage healthy eating and physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends schools be more proactive in creating healthier school environments. For example, schools can improve the environment by using smarter lunchroom techniques to market healthier food, they can provide comprehensive nutrition and physical education, and they can strengthen their Local Wellness Policies.

Childhood obesity – on the rise:

In the United States, more than one third of children and adolescents were classified as either overweight or obese in 2012. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Overweight and obese children have higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those children who are not overweight or obese. Type 2 diabetes has been shown to be associated with metabolic and cardiovascular complications.

Schools can lay the foundation for a healthy life:

The CDC states that healthy eating and physical activity lowers risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes. Children are specifically influenced by many sectors of society, including families, communities, and schools. Schools play an important role in supporting children’s health. They also provide opportunities for students learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behaviors.

Steps schools can take to support student health:

  1. Establish healthy eating and physical activity supportive environments.
  2. Provide a quality school meal program.
  3. Implement comprehensive physical education and health education programs.
  4. Provide students with chronic disease prevention support services.
  5. Partner with families and community members in the development and implementation of healthy eating and physical activity policies, practices, and programs.
  6. Provide a school employee wellness program.
  7. Provide health and wellness professional development opportunities – including recess, cafeteria, and out-of-school-time staff members.

Michigan’s Healthy Schools website provides resources that go along with these steps:  

As part of a USDA Team Nutrition grant, Michigan created a website that houses Steps to Create a Healthier School (  The Steps to a Healthy School website was developed by a team of experts devoted to improving the health and academic outcomes of Michigan students.  The team came together to collect and suggest resources, curricula, best practices, and funding opportunities to help schools improve their nutrition and physical activity environment. The website and each of the five steps will continue to be updated with new information and resources.

The goal of the website is to serve as a one-stop location for schools that walks them through the steps to create a healthier school. The group created a five-step process and embedded vetted resources within each.

Creating healthier school environments can be challenging.  However, many resources exist to help parents, teachers and administrators improve the environment.  This website is a good example of how schools can make the healthy choice the easy choice.


Da Yeon Shin, PhD, Michigan State University

Nicholas Drzal, RD, MPH, Michigan Department of Education


D’Adamo E, Caprio S. (2011) Type 2 diabetes in youth: epidemiology and pathophysiology. Diabetes Care, 34 (2), S161-5.

Childhood Obesity Facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

School Health Guidelines, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Steps to a Healthy School Website