"Meet them where they are." How +Network partners support and struggle with Chicago Public Schools to meet local school wellness policy goals
Objective: In the United States, childhood obesity rates have remained high and unchanged since 2003, creating a host of health risk factors and negatively impacting academic performance. Schools play an important role in promoting health and preventing obesity among children and adolescents. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 required school districts to develop and implement a local school wellness policy (WP) by the 2006-07 school year. At a minimum, WPs must include goals for nutrition promotion, physical activity, food and beverage restrictions, and stakeholder engagement. By 2013, 95% of districts nationwide had adopted a WP. Healthy CPS is an initiative led by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to help schools comply with the districts WP by streamlining the policy into four badges. Since earning badges has been challenging for many schools, CPS developed the +Network; community-based organizations (CBO) across Chicago that provide Healthy CPS support. Methods: In this paper, I utilize qualitative research methods to address whether +Network partners are effective at helping schools achieve Healthy CPS guidelines. Nine, semi-structured interviews and one focus group were completed. A codebook was created by a team of three, independent evaluators and I conducted thematic analysis on the transcripts. Results: Semi-structured interview and focus group respondents agreed that +Network partners provided a number of services that helped schools meet Healthy CPS guidelines. Notably, +Network partners engaged parents in Healthy CPS planning, facilitated health-based workshops for students, and connected school staff and community members with essential health services. However, regardless of +Network partner presence, schools continue to struggle to meet Healthy CPS guidelines due to cultural traditions involving food, an unequal distribution of resources across schools, and ineffective planning and messaging from CPS. Respondents suggested CPS engage parents and schools when developing future Healthy CPS or WP guidelines. Discussion: While more school districts are implementing WPs, research shows that many WPs are not complete or comprehensive. Schools face barriers integrating health messages and activities into a growing academic curriculum. This research, while limited by a small sample size and lack of quantitative support, demonstrates the +Network is a support structure that is capable of filling certain gaps to help schools meet WP guidelines. They are most effective providing nutrition, physical activity, and sexual education messaging; three topics increasingly seen in WPs across the country. Still, +Network partners were unable to help schools overcome cultural barriers around food which continues to challenge many school districts. As noted by respondents, engaging parents and school staff when developing WPs may present culturally acceptable solutions to these and other barriers. Future work would benefit from a mixed methods approach combining interviews with analysis of education and health outcomes.
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2021-05-08When the item was originally created.