Potential Public Health Impact
Reach:West Virginia’s nutrition standards have strong potential for reach due to their nature as a statewide policy which will affect all the children in the state who attend schools in the 55 county school systems under the purview of the West Virginia State Board of Education (282,000 students pre-K through 12th grade). The policy may have a greater impact on students eligible for free or reduced school meals, which comprises almost 52% of the student population in West Virginia (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, 2009-10). Approximately 195,000 lunches are served daily in West Virginia schools. In addition to school meals, the policy comprehensively addresses different components of the school food environment with provisions for marketing and nutrition standards for “other foods and beverages during the school day,” fundraising, food as a reward, availability of drinking water, adequate time for meal consumption, snacks, staffing, local wellness policies, accountability and compliance, and evaluation.
Adoption: The potential for adoption is very high due to the mandatory nature of the nutrition standards, and county school system funding for school meals is contingent upon adoption of and compliance with the policy. According to the evaluation data available, West Virginia’s policy has been adopted across all counties in the state. Additionally, by tying policy implementation to financial incentives/disincentives, the potential and motivation for school districts to adopt the policy is further increased.
Implementation:Data indicate different provisions of the policy have been implemented across the counties within West Virginia. Specifically, the Year One Evaluation data collected by West Virginia University indicates 85% of county food service directors report that at least 75% of the policy requirements have been implemented at their schools. Only 2% report less than 25% implementation. The West Virginia Department of Education Office of Child Nutrition’s (OCN) modified annual Monitoring of Accountability form incorporates questions that track compliance with the nutrition standards. Policy developers provided good communication and training to assist with policy implementation.
Effectiveness:The policy’s potential for effectiveness is strong because many of its provisions are requirements, not recommendations. Data available at the time of the review show that majority of the provisions of the policy had been implemented in 85% of the schools. In addition, while the behavioral data were self-reported or reported by parents, it appears that the policy was associated with improvements in students’ dietary behaviors: an increase in fruit/vegetable and milk consumption and a decrease in soft drink consumption compared to the previous year were reported.
Maintenance:Maintenance appears to be feasible because the various policy components do not require extensive resources to be sustainable. Incorporating the policy into the regular monitoring of the federal school nutrition programs by the OCN further ensures maintenance. West Virginia’s nutrition standards have been in effect since July 1, 2008. Implementation, monitoring and enforcement of the policy are overseen by the OCN, and all funding for implementation and monitoring comes from the OCN’s working budget.