Relationship Between School Wellness Policy Language and Implementation: The WellSAT and WellSAT-I

Emily Burke



Background: As of 2006, all school districts are federally required by the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act to establish wellness policies that describe how they will address topics related to the prevention of childhood obesity; specifically, nutrition education, the school nutrition environment, and physical activity. The Wellness School Assessment Tool (WellSAT) was developed in order for schools to assess how well their written policies align with federal regulations and best practices. The aim of this study was to use the newly developed WellSAT Interview (WellSAT-I) to compare written wellness policies of four Connecticut school districts to reported practices within the schools and to identify the various ways in which the difference between the written language of wellness policies effects how practices are implemented. Methods: Four Connecticut school districts varying in size, urbanization, and sociodemographic characteristics participated in the study. After coding their written policies using an expanded version of the WellSAT and conducting these interviews, we compared the strength of their written policies to their implemented practices. Results: None of the districts scored lower on the overall comprehensiveness of their implementation practices compared to their written policies. However, the strength and comprehensiveness of each district’s written policy and implementation methods vary across subscales. Conclusions: Teachers and other school district employees should obtain guidance on how to implement best practices for nutrition education, physical education and physical activity, and wellness promotion and marketing. Future research is required to understand the effects that wellness policy implementation has on the overall well-being of students.