Policy Options to Support Healthy Eating in Schools

Mary L. McKenna


Objectives: School nutrition policies offer a promising avenue by which to promote healthy eating and reduce the risk of chronic disease. This article reviews policy components that could support healthy eating, examines their evidence base and suggests directions for future research.

Method: Information was drawn from research and other literature written in English between 1994 and 2008. Guided by recommendations from the World Health Organization, evidence pertaining to five potential components of policies was identified and reviewed: foods available, the food environment, health education, health services and counselling, and family and community outreach.

Results: A limited number of evaluations have examined the impact of school nutrition standards and have shown a positive impact on food availability and student nutrient intake. Results have shown that behaviourally focused nutrition education, especially when combined with food services and other initiatives, may affect students’ eating habits positively but may not decrease obesity levels. Evidence pertaining to other potential policy subcomponents, such as limiting food marketing in schools, coordinating all food services and providing nutrition-related health services, is limited or lacking.

Conclusion: Conceptually, comprehensive school nutrition policies comprising all five policy components offer an integrated and holistic approach to school nutrition. They could provide an umbrella to guide all school actions pertaining to nutrition and serve as a framework for accountability. Does conceptualization match reality? Further research is needed to determine how policy components affect implementation and outcomes.

Key words: Public health; education; health promotion; nutrition; policy; schools


Public Health; Education; Health Promotion; Nutrition; Policy; Schools

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17269/cjph.101.1910