Table Of Contents
In order to address the issue of healthy school meals and healthy school environments as a whole, it is obvious that we need a comprehensive, holistic approach, particularly in times of financial limitations. The same way that just more money won't be the answer, just involving the usual suspects won't solve the problem. We can take heed from First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign that targets obesity and its related ill effects in children by focusing on all the factors that contribute to it.
Creating healthy learning environments will require public-private partnerships, parental engagement, policy development and changes, and more. It will have to be a dual process that goes from the bottom up - by implementing changes at the local and even at the individual school level - and from the top down by working on the implementation of policies that promote healthy school meals and environments.
The Office of Minority Health devoted National Minority Health Month, April 2011, to the issue of healthy school food, and in that context launched an Action Learning Collaborative (ALC) with the long term goal of improving schools' food offerings and school environments for all children, and in particular for minority and underserved populations. The ALC ultimate goal is to help school districts and individual schools to implement needed changes that would help them meet the criteria to apply for the USDA Healthier US School Challenge.
An Action Learning Collaborative (ALC) brings together interdisciplinary teams who are working to improve a process, practice, or system. These teams use improvement science to guide their work toward a shared aim. All team members learn and teach from their collective experiences and challenges. ALC's have successfully operated to improve outcomes in a broad range of settings and have measurably improved the health of targeted populations.
In order to organize and lead the ALC, OMH and Healthy Schools Campaign invited national and local leaders who have been working on nutrition, childhood obesity, school food, school environment, and related issues to become part of the ALC Advisory Group.
The overall goal of Action Learning Collaborative is to advise schools, school districts and communities on how to effectively develop, implement and evaluate school and district policies and programs that address childhood obesity in low-income minority schools. The ALC would follow the objectives of the Healthier US School Challenge from the USDA, with the specific objective of helping prepare minority-serving schools to meet the criteria to apply successfully to the Challenge.
The ALC process is designed to:
- Increase awareness among minority communities of the importance of improving school food as a significant social determinant of health;
- Increase understanding of the participation of minorities and low income children in the school lunch program and define ways of utilizing this to influence health outcomes overall;
- Increase awareness of the link between food-achievement-health and of the importance of a life span approach to health in order to improve several health outcomes;
- Facilitate the dissemination and adoption of promising practices among the participating teams;
- Build the capacity of schools (in particular minority serving institutions), private sector, non-profits, etc. to collaborate effectively and in practice to improve school food;
- Facilitate the gradual adoption of all the criteria from the HealthierUS School Challenge in schools across the nation;
- Provide capacity building assistance to schools and school districts to enable them to adopt and adapt the most successful models of public-private partnerships;
- Provide a regular stream of "lessons learned" for other schools and school districts that may be interested.