Barriers and Enablers to the Implementation of School Wellness Policies: An Economic Perspective

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Abstract

Background. Local wellness policies (LWPs) are mandated among school systems to enhance nutrition/physical activity opportunities in schools. Prior research notes disparities in LWP implementation. This study uses mixed methods to examine barriers/enablers to LWP implementation, comparing responses by student body income. Method. Schools (n = 744, 24 systems) completed an LWP implementation barriers/enablers survey. Semistructured interviews (n = 20 random subsample) described barriers/enablers. Responses were compared by majority of lower (≥50% free/reduced-price meals; lower income [LI]) versus higher income (HI) student body. Results. In surveys, LI and HI schools identified common barriers (parents/families, federal/state regulations, students, time, funding) and enablers (school system, teachers, food service, physical education curriculum/resources, and staff). Interviews further elucidated how staffing and funding served as enablers for all schools, and provide context for how and why barriers differed by income: time, food service (HI schools), and parents/families (LI schools). Conclusions. Findings support commonalities in barriers and enablers among all schools, suggesting that regardless of economic context, schools would benefit from additional supports, such as physical education and nutrition education resources integrated into existing curricula, additional funding, and personnel time dedicated to wellness programming. LI schools may benefit from additional funding to support parent and community involvement.

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