Afterschool & Health: Opportunities for Advocacy

Although most afterschool providers recognize the important role that afterschool programs can play in school-based health promotion efforts, many do not realize that opportunities for advocacy exist within the implementation and evaluation of school districts' Local Wellness Policies. This toolkit provides an overview of the Local Wellness Policy requirement and outlines steps that afterschool advocates can take to get involved in the policy process and become partners in their communities' efforts to promote healthy lifestyles among youth.

By integrating healthy snacks, nutrition education, and physical activity into their programming, afterschool programs are already helping kids in their care eat healthier and be more physically active. But afterschool programs can and should also think about the bigger picture. Through the local wellness policy requirement, afterschool programs can build on their existing relationships with students, schools, parents, and the community to advance a holistic approach to childhood obesity prevention. They can help ensure that afterschool is part of the infrastructure created for student health promotion initiatives.

Local Wellness Policy

Because children are required to spend nearly half their waking hours at school, schools are an ideal arena in which to engage children in healthy eating and physical activity and to reinforce healthy messages and habits. In 2001, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher identified schools as a key setting for implementing public health strategies. The Child Nutrition & WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 requires every school district or local educational agency to develop a "local wellness policy" by the start of the 2006-2007 school year, and places the responsibility of developing a wellness policy at the district level, giving districts the flexibility to formulate policies in response to specific local conditions. Although the legislation gives schools the express authority to make decisions and set standards themselves, it requires that, at a minimum, the policies:

  • Include goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other school-based activities designed to promote student wellness.
  • Include nutrition guidelines for all foods available on the school campus during the school day.
  • Ensure that the guidelines for school meals at least meet USDA regulations.
  • Establish a plan for measuring implementation of the local wellness policies.
  • Involve a broad group of individuals (parents, students, representatives of the school food authority, the school board, school administrators and the public) in the development of the policies.

How to Get Involved

Afterschool programs can support districts’ efforts to implement and evaluate local wellness policies in two important ways. One way is to offer additional opportunities for organized physical activity and nutrition and physical education. Another is to implement program policies and practices that reinforce the district’s local wellness policy and support its goals for wellness, thereby helping to ensure consistency from the school day to the after school hours. The Afterschool Alliance has developed this toolkit to highlight opportunities for afterschool leaders and advocates to become involved in and help shape the process along each step of the way.

Step 1 – Familiarize Yourself with Federal, State and Local Requirements

The first task for anyone taking part in this process is to become familiar with the requirements of Section 204 of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. In addition to the new federal requirements, local wellness policies must also comply with existing state laws. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these requirements and how they may apply to your programs. (For full text of the Local Wellness Policy requirement, see

As you familiarize yourself with these requirements, pay special notice to where these requirements may apply to afterschool programs. For example, nutrition-related legislation may pertain to foods sold in schools after school. Below are links to resources that can help you find existing health-related laws in your state.

State-Level Policy Resources:

Step 2 - Review Your District’s Current and Newly-Adopted Wellness Policies

The next step is to contact your district to obtain copies of the newly-adopted wellness policies. As you examine the policies, ask yourself:

  • Does the policy address all of the federal and state requirements? If not, are there areas in which afterschool can help the district meet these requirements?
  • Are there areas where your afterschool programs can support your district or school’s efforts to meet the goals set forth in the wellness policies?

Step 3 - Assess the Afterschool Environment

If you haven't already, initiate a needs assessment of your afterschool programs. Look at your programs' policies and practices related to physical activity and nutrition and critically examine whether they are aligned with district policy and supportive of your district's goals for student wellness. Below are some examples of tools that have been developed specifically for the afterschool environment to guide you in this process.

Needs Assessment Tools:

Step 4 - Join the Effort

Many districts have assembled a policy team to take charge of the local wellness policy development and implementation. In some districts, an existing school health advisory or coordinating council or other body, such as the school health department or the food services division, may have been assigned to lead and oversee the process. Health councils and wellness policy teams can include a variety of stakeholders, such as school food service directors or staff, physical education staff, curriculum development specialists, principals, school board members, parents, classroom teachers and/or union representatives, school nurses, representatives from public health agencies and private healthcare providers, and members of community-wide health coalitions.

Although those who are involved with developing and implementing the policy likely have strong connections to the district administration, it may be difficult for them to identify other stakeholders in the district who should be a part of this process, such as the district's afterschool providers. Therefore you should take the initiative to reach out to those who are coordinating the process and express your interest in becoming involved. Contact your district superintendent's office to find out who is guiding the process and how to connect with them.

Below are links to more information about School Health Councils:

Step 5 - Build Support for Afterschool

Afterschool programs have traditionally incorporated activities to support health and wellness into their programming. Unfortunately, those in charge of implementing the local wellness policies may not be aware of all that afterschool programs currently door have the potential to doto help improve student health outcomes. As an afterschool provider or advocate, you can make a valuable contribution to the district’s effort to implement its wellness policy, and that is why it is so critical to educate your team members about how afterschool programs can support the wellness effort. When speaking to your health council or policy team members, highlight the following points:

  • Afterschool programs have a capacity for reaching youth. Tell your district’s policy team members how many of the district's students your programs currently serve.
  • Afterschool can help leverage additional resources and partnerships. Afterschool programs often partner with county and nonprofit health agencies. Nonprofit, community-based afterschool providers may be eligible for funding to support health promotion that schools may not.
  • Afterschool can be a bridge between school and family. One of the biggest challenges facing school districts as they start the process of implementing the policies is getting buy-in from parents. Afterschool programs can help educate parents and families about the new policies and build support for the districts’ efforts. Many parents and caregivers pick up kids from afterschool programs after work, and afterschool programs often host activities and events and invite parents and families to take part.
  • Afterschool programs feed youth after school. Most, if not all, afterschool programs provide participants with snacks, and some even provide a meal. This presents an opportunity to bolster the nutrition education provided during the school day and to reinforce district policies regarding foods served in the schools.
  • Afterschool programs have experience in physical activity and nutrition. Many community-based afterschool providers, such as YMCAs, Boys and Girls’ Clubs and city park and recreation departments, as well as national organizations such as 4-H and Girl Scouts, have made health promotion an integral part of their missions. And because they have experience implementing physical activity, physical education and nutrition education programming, they can share lessons learned and promising practices with the district.

The Afterschool Alliance has created materials to help you to communicate the connection between afterschool and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. See our Research Related to Afterschool and Health. See also:

Step 6 - Help Implement the Policy

During the implementation phase, it will be critical to build support for the new policies among your afterschool staff and program leaders, especially for those policies that pertain directly to the afterschool and out-of-school hours. Your programs may also have already implemented nutrition or physical activity-related policies or interventions. Sharing evaluation data or your lessons learned from these efforts may be very helpful for your team. Highlight the contribution that afterschool programs are making toward meeting the district's goals for improving student health outcomes, and emphasize the importance of making policies and practices consistent from the school day to the out-of-school hours. Resources for Implementation and Evaluation:

Step 7 - Stay Involved in Maintaining and Evaluating the Effort

Districts are required to establish an evaluation plan and assign one or more people the specific task of ensuring that the schools are meeting the local wellness policy requirements. This will include assessing how the policies are implemented, managed and enforced. Offer to help with this effort by evaluating the implementation and enforcement of policies pertaining to the afterschool hours. (Refer to the afterschool-specific evaluation and assessment tools listed under Step 3). Your cooperation in the evaluation process will demonstrate to your district that afterschool programs are continuing to be active partners in the coordinated effort to improve health outcomes for students.

Step 8 - Modify the Policies

The deadline for adoption of the policies has passed, and though a small handful of districts may have yet to adopt their policies, most have moved from the development to the implementation stage. As the districts begin the process of implementing the policies and evaluating their efforts, there is still a very important opportunity for afterschool leaders to get involved in shaping the policies. In August 2006, Action for Healthy Kids examined a sample of 112 adopted district wellness policies and found that just slightly more than half (54 percent) met the minimum federal requirements. Additionally, Action for Healthy Kids found policies lacking in a number of areas pertaining to implementation and evaluation1. This indicates that even though the policies have been adopted, the need to adapt and modify them will be ongoing.

  • Action for Healthy Kids. “An Action for Healthy Kids Report: A Snapshot View of Local School Wellness Policies – More Than Half Fall Short of Federal Mandate.” August 23, 2006

Through your participation in this process, you are well-positioned to make sure that afterschool is given as large a role as possible when the policies are modified. To help you to do this, the Afterschool Alliance has compiled examples of enacted and draft policy language that includes afterschool and out-of-school time programs. You may also want to take a look at examples of policy language pertaining to the regular school day to see where afterschool can be added. Below are some links to resources that include examples of policy language.

Step 9 – Celebrate Your Successes!

There are many ways that you can shine a spotlight on your program’s efforts to improve student health. For instance, host an organized physical activity event, and invite your schools, districts and communities to take part. Feature physical activity and nutrition as part of your Lights On Afterschool celebration. Invite your local media affiliates to visit your program and observe your health promotion efforts – children’s health and local wellness policies are getting a lot of attention in both local and national press. Let parents and community members know about your involvement in the wellness policy process. Promote your efforts to a wider audience of organizations and agencies working to improve children’s health outcomes by joining the Shaping America’s Youth registry of obesity prevention initiatives. Join your state’s Action for Healthy Kids state team and share your experiences and lessons learned with your team members. Useful links: