One of the main avenues that schools can use to positively affect health is also one most directly in line with every school’s mission: educating students. Nutrition and physical activity lessons can be woven into the curriculum-in core classroom subjects, physical education, and after-school programs-to teach skills that help students choose and maintain healthy lifestyles. In addition to teaching evidence-based nutrition and activity messages, school physical education should focus on getting students engaged in high-quality and regular activity.

Schools can also promote health outside of the classroom, by surrounding students with opportunities to eat healthy and stay active. To improve nutrition, schools can include healthier food offerings in the cafeteria and eliminate marketing of unhealthy foods. To improve activity, schools can develop safe walking and biking routes to school, and can promote active recess time.

Wellness programs for faculty and staff can also be integral to improving the school environment, not only serving to boost faculty and staff health but also building school-wide enthusiasm for student-focused programs.

Additionally, schools can serve as important data sources on student health. Anonymous, school-level information on markers like students’ body mass index (BMI) can help educators and policy-makers assess success of current programs and decide the direction of future programs.

With good evidence that school-based prevention programs can successfully-and without many added resources-help students to eat better, be more active, and achieve healthier weights, schools are poised to become an integral part of the fight against the obesity epidemic. As with education in general, the sooner we act, the better.

This section of The Obesity Prevention Source summarizes obesity prevention recommendations for the school setting, based on a review of expert guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the World Health Organization, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list on each page, as well as the links to useful toolkits and other resources.