Date of Award

4-21-2008

Degree Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)

Department

Public Health

First Advisor

Valerie A. Hepburn, Ph.D., M.P.A. - Chair

Second Advisor

Rodney Lyn

Third Advisor

Michael P. Eriksen, Sc.D.

Abstract

Background: This study analyzes local wellness policies of 176 Georgia public school systems. The purpose of the study was to analyze potential relationships between demographic characteristics of Georgia school systems and compliance with the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, as well as the strength of wellness policy goals in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, and other school-based activities. Methods: Demographic data from the Georgia Department of Education were used as independent variables. Compliance ratings and the strength of wellness policy goals were derived from an evaluation tool developed by a research team at Georgia State University’s Institute of Public Health as part of a project contracted by the Georgia Department of Education. Analysis was conducted using Pearson’s correlation (two-tailed), crosstabulation, and linear regression. Results: Statistically significant positive associations were found between academic performance and strength of overall wellness policy goals (p < .05), as well as goals in the areas of nutrition education and other school-based activities (p < .01). Economic status of the student population was found to be positively associated with the strength of nutrition education goals (p < .05). No statistically significant associations were identified between demographic characteristics of school systems and physical activity goals. No associations were identified between involving community stakeholders in wellness policy development and having more comprehensive wellness policy goals. Conclusions: This study found statistically significant evidence of districts with stronger academic performance having more comprehensive overall wellness policy goals and stronger goals specifically in the areas of nutrition education and other school-based activities goals. Findings should assist the Georgia Department of Education in allocating its limited resources to help school systems improve wellness in public schools throughout Georgia. Recommendations are made to strengthen federal and state policy regarding school wellness, to conduct more research regarding the influence of community involvement on school wellness, and to provide guidance to local school systems having less resources and lower student academic performance in order to ensure health disparities are not further exacerbated.

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