Implementation of Local Wellness Policies in Schools: Role of School Systems, School Health Councils, and Health Disparities
BACKGROUND: Written local wellness policies (LWPs) are mandated in school systems to enhance opportunities for healthy eating/activity. LWP effectiveness relies on school-level implementation. We examined factors associated with school-level LWP implementation. Hypothesized associations included system support for school-level implementation and having a school-level wellness team/school health council (SHC), with stronger associations among schools without disparity enrollment (majority African-American/Hispanic or low-income students).
METHODS: Online surveys were administered: 24 systems (support), 1349 schools (LWP implementation, perceived system support, SHC). The state provided school demographics. Analyses included multilevel multinomial logistic regression.
RESULTS: Response rates were 100% (systems)/55.2% (schools). Among schools, 44.0% had SHCs, 22.6% majority (≥75%) African-American/Hispanic students, and 25.5% majority (≥75%) low-income (receiving free/reduced-price meals). LWP implementation (17-items) categorized as none = 36.3%, low (1-5 items) = 36.3%, high (6+ items) = 27.4%. In adjusted models, greater likelihood of LWP implementation was observed among schools with perceived system support (high versus none relative risk ratio, RRR = 1.63, CI: 1.49, 1.78; low versus none RRR = 1.26, CI: 1.18, 1.36) and SHCs (high versus none RRR = 6.8, CI: 4.07, 11.37; low versus none RRR = 2.24, CI: 1.48, 3.39). Disparity enrollment did not moderate associations (p > .05).
CONCLUSIONS: Schools with perceived system support and SHCs had greater likelihood of LWP implementation, with no moderating effect of disparity enrollment. SHCs/support may overcome LWP implementation obstacles related to disparities.