Guide for Writing After-School Wellness Policies

For additional resources and information, visit the Policy Writing Guide at The Out of School Time Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative at OSNAP.org

To download a PDF version of this policy writing guide, click here.

Children's Health and How After-School Programs Can Help

What children eat and drink, how much they are physically active, and how much time they spend in front of a television, computer, video game, or other electronic screen play an important role in achieving and maintaining optimal health. Most children do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, or whole grains and consume too many sugary drinks, salty snacks, and sweets. Very few children get enough physical activity each day to stay healthy and strong.

The good news is that it is possible to help children get healthier by improving nutrition, increasing physical activity, and reducing their time spent watching TV or other electronic screens. After school programs can play an important role by making sure that children have access to healthy foods and beverages, limiting their exposure to unhealthy foods and beverages, setting aside time for physical activity each day, and limiting screen time.

The Out of School Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative (OSNAP), a project of the Harvard School of Public Health Prevention Research Center, lays out nine key standards that programs can follow to help promote a healthy after-school environment for kids:

  1. Include 30 minutes of moderate, fun, physical activity for every child every day.
  2. Offer 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity three times per week.
  3. Ban sugar-sweetened drinks from being served at the program.
  4. Offer water as a beverage at snack every day.
  5. Offer a fruit or vegetable option every day.
  6. Ban foods with trans fats.
  7. Ban sugar-sweetened drinks from being brought into the program.
  8. Eliminate use of commercial broadcast TV/movies.
  9. Limit recreational computer time to less than one hour per day.

How Policies Facilitate Programs' Plans to Promote Health

Setting down written policies about nutrition, physical activity, and screen time is an important action step for after school programs trying to promote children's health. Written policies help make it absolutely clear to program administrators, staff, parents, and children what the program is supposed to do to support healthy behaviors. The best place to put them is in staff, parent/family, or general handbooks since these documents clearly lay out the program rules. Written policies can also be communicated to staff and parents in training materials or newsletters. After school programs often rely on spoken or informal, unwritten policies to determine practice. While these are important, formal, written policies have several advantages.

First, having a written policy ensures that everyone is aware of what is expected from them and what they can expect from the program, while spoken or informal policies may not ever get communicated to some people.

Second, having a written policy ensures that the program policies are very clear. A written policy makes it less likely that a staff member or parent will misunderstand the program's goals and practices.

Third, a written policy helps hold program staff, parents, and children accountable for following the program's rules, compared to an informal policy, which is more difficult to enforce.

Fourth, written policies help ensure that policies are sustainable over time. If an administrator or staff member with important knowledge about practices leaves the program, future staff members will know how to keep children healthy based on the written policies.

Purpose of This Guide and How to Use It

This guide provides suggestions for language that can be directly inserted into parent or family handbooks, staff handbooks, general program handbooks, letters to families, staff training materials, or even schedules and menus. The suggested language in this guide lays out policies that match with the OSNAP standards listed above. Including these policies will help ensure that your program meets these goals and sticks with them in the future. Supplementary language for other policies that support healthy eating, increased physical activity, and reduced screen time are also included at the end of this guide. When possible, several options have been provided for each goal so that you can choose language that best fits your individual program.

Each piece of policy language is followed by an explanation of how practices would have to be changed to implement the policy. This is so that the implications of including each policy are very clear. While the language in this guide can, of course, be changed, it is important to carefully think about what your changes might mean for practice. For example, a policy that states that parents should stop from sending in sugary drinks is weaker than a policy stating that parents must stop from sending them in. Using "should" means that following the policy is encouraged, but not required, while using "must" means that the policy is a hard-and-fast rule. Most of the pieces of policy language in this guide have already been used with after-school programs, so we know they can work.

Policy Language for OSNAP Standards

The other pages provide examples for policy language that you can insert into parent, staff, or general handbooks. Examples are given for policies that help meet each of the OSNAP program goals. Other policy language that can help improve nutrition, increase physical activity, and decrease TV and computer time at the program is also included.