The Wellness Policy is a new federal requirement that may spawn genuine community nutrition partnerships, if grassroots leadership takes the initiative. But the wellness policies, another unfunded mandate, might also serve only to further stress school personnel and might ultimately exist solely on paper. Given the financial stresses and time contraints on schools, the mandate might well be ignored or trivialized. Even if good policies are developed, lack of funding will likely prevent implementation. But Habib believes that developing wellness policies can provide opportunities for conversations that improve the lives and health of students.
For schools in low-income areas, junk food often generates much-needed revenue from bake sales, vending machines, and a la carte programs. And it's the low-income students in these schools who could benefit the most from a comprehensive wellness policy. Poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and obesity also can increase schools' costs if special programs must be designed for children who suffer academically or behaviorally because of these conditions. In addition, the physical and emotional problems that poor nutrition and physical inactivity cause place an increased burden on teachers and other school staff who must provide students affected by these problems with additional services.
Participants in the partnerships between the Athol and Orange schools and Seeds of Solidarity make real lifestyle changes. Tim is a 6th grade student in Orange: "If I hadn't done this program, I probably wouldn't have a garden at my house and that would be sad. I'd like people to know that it's more important to be healthy than wealthy."