Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bronx Health Reach Schools-Based Nutrition & Fitness Workgroup: Recap and Looking to the Future

The 2014-2015 school year has been an exciting one for Bronx Health REACH. With recently awarded funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we've welcomed three new staff members, and plan to bring on two more later this spring. This growth allows our team to dedicate even more time and energy to addressing barriers to health equity in the Bronx.
                With our new REACH funding from the CDC, we have awarded several small grants to a number of our community partners. Churches, schools, and local organizations will receive funding to implement various projects aimed at improving access to healthy food and physical activity. Four of our 22 school partners were given grants to address nutrition. The funding will go towards compensating teachers for attending professional development trainings and workshops on nutrition education outside regular school hours; purchasing nutrition education curricula/materials; and coordinating field trips to local farmers markets. In an effort to make nutrition education a sustainable part of classroom instruction, this project will help teachers integrate nutrition topics into their existing lesson plans. In addition to these four schools, two other schools were given funding for Active Design projects. The goal is to increase physical activity through creative design and infrastructure changes in schools.
                This new REACH initiative goes hand-in-hand with Bronx Health REACH’s existing schools-based work through its Healthy Schools NY grant, from the NY State Department of Health. This grant allows us to provide technical assistance to our 22 school partners in meeting city and state mandates for school wellness; to establish school wellness councils; and to support them in expanding health-related programming that promotes healthy eating and physical fitness. During the past eight months, four of our schools submitted successful applications for School Wellness Council Grants through the NYC Department of Education (DOE) Office of School Wellness. Other school successes include: three schools transitioned to the Alternative Menu, four schools signed on to work with a new nutrition education program, and four schools submitted successful applications for school garden grants through Grow to Learn NYC.
                One challenge that has been consistently present throughout our work in the schools is the lack of capacity and resources schools face when providing their students with physical education. We have been collaborating with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest on their PE for All Coalition—a city-wide effort to ensure students’ rights to a quality physical education program. A reporting bill that would require the DOE to report on which schools are complying with state mandates for PE has recently been introduced into the City Council. This is an important development that Bronx Health REACH and its Nutrition and Fitness Workgroup members are excited by and supportive of. The bill’s passing would be an important step towards the goal of full compliance by NYC public schools with the PE/PA mandate for its students.  
              One topic we would like to see mandated is a coordinated and institutionalized nutrition education program in NYC DOE schools. Currently, the standards for nutrition education are couched within a weak health education and physical education mandate. Furthermore, there are few incentives in place to prompt schools to opt in to a nutrition education program. With strong input from our partners who specialize in nutrition education and student wellness, we are planning to draft a series of recommendations for nutrition education for the policy makers at NYCDOE and NYCDOH to consider and act on. The aforementioned policies represent only a few of the policy changes that we and our partners are promoting.
                In addition to local projects and policies, there are state and nation-wide policy issues which directly affect children’s ability to live healthy lifestyles. Bronx Health REACH and many of our partners are watching with intense interest the reintroduction of the Fitness Integrated into Teaching (FIT) Kids Act. This year the bill’s language includes the restoration of a 37% cut to the only source of federal grant funding dedicated to physical education (the Physical Education Program, or PEP). The FIT Kids Act would provide support for PEP’s work, including curriculum evaluation, fitness assessment reporting, data collection and professional development for health and physical education teachers. For more information about this bill, please contact
We are also closely monitoring the 2015 Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR). This bill will have a major impact on the nutritional standards and access to healthy foods for children across the country. NYC4CNR, a local coalition of partners working on child nutrition issues, is advocating for a strong CNR that will ensure NYC children are healthy, well-nourished, and ready to learn. Additionally, CNR advocates strengthening local economies and communities.
The Nutrition and Fitness workgroup affords those of us working in the Bronx to coordinate efforts through policy and system changes at the local, state and national levels. Our monthly workgroup meetings allow us to share and collaborate with our community partners to improve and promote school wellness. The workgroup also offers a powerful opportunity to mobilize organizations and individuals who are working towards a common goal. We look forward to identifying new opportunities for collaboration in our upcoming workgroup meetings and to achieving tangible policy changes throughout the year.

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