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Spotlight

Healthy Schools Campaign

Healthy Schools Campaign LogoThe mission of the Healthy Schools Campaign is to advocate for policies and model programs that allow students and staff members to learn and work in a healthy school environment. The Campaign is doing this by focussing on two key issues, school environmental health, and the school food environment in Illinois communities.

Environmental Health in Schools

In the last few decades, there has been a dramatic change in the nature of childhood illness from simple infections to complex, chronic, handicapping conditions of multiple origins. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that points to environmental chemical exposures as a significant cause of childhood disease and cancer.

Since May 2002, the Healthy Schools Campaign has conducted numerous summits, policy forums and luncheon presentations, and has held many meetings with individuals and organizations to bring about positive changes in school environments. Based on their research, the Campaign has come to four conclusions:

  1. Because school attendance is mandated by law, the federal and state governments and local school districts have a responsibility to provide healthy school environments.

  2. Illinois laws and regulations do not adequately address the need to protect children from environmental exposures while in schools.

  3. Unhealthy school environments impact students’ abilities to learn and teachers’ abilities to teach. A healthy learning environment is a critical component and must be included in the discussion on improving academic performance.

  4. Attention to maintenance practices that promote healthy indoor environments is important in protecting the state’s recent $2 billion investment in school infrastructure.

School Food Environment

Cooking up Change ProgramNationwide, schools are increasingly invaded by junk food and other food of questionable health and nutritional quality. The Healthy Schools Campaign works to reverse this situation in Illinois and to help people nationwide learn more about the issue.

Federally-funded school meal programs are not students' only choices on campus. Students also now have a variety of food choices during their school hours and mealtimes, food choices that are called "competitive foods." These can include food products sold in a la carte areas, vending machines, snack bars/stores and at fundraising events.

Perhaps most disturbingly with competitive foods, soft drinks and junk foods are widely available to students in schools. Forty percent of elementary schools, three-quarters of middle/junior high schools, and virtually all senior high schools have vending machines, school stores, or snack bars. The most common items sold out of these venues include soft drinks, sports drinks, imitation fruit drinks, chips, candy, and baked goods that are high in fat, sugar, and/or salt. A la carte areas are available in 78% of secondary schools, 65% middle schools and 31% elementary schools.

With students spending so much of their time at school during the week, and with at least one of their daily meals often coming from there, it is clear that schools provide a critical opportunity to improve the nutrition of students or to inhibit it. The Healthy School Campaign works from the position that through changes in school food policies, we can help children develop healthy lifelong eating habits.

The Healthy Schools Campaign's research, public education efforts, and coalition building have positioned them to be an effective advocate for a comprehensive school food agenda. They are available to work with parents, food service personnel, and/or school administrators on conducting school food assessments.

The Healthy Schools Campaign website has much more information on these issues and the many programs in place working to make our schools centers of health for our children.