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School design guidelines help promote healthy eating behaviors in kids

March 13, 2013, NCCOR

A newly available pilot tool, the Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture, represents an innovative approach to obesity prevention that compasses architecture, schools, and science.

Creating school food environments that support healthy eating among children is a recommended national strategy to prevent childhood obesity, and is shown to have positive effects on student behavior, development, and academic performance.

To help children learn life-long healthy eating habits, researchers developed the Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture which provides practitioners in architecture and public health as well as school system administrators with a practical set of spatially organized and theory-based strategies for making school environments more conducive to learning about and practicing healthy eating behaviors.

These guidelines were implemented in a pilot project at Buckingham Elementary School in Dillwyn, Va. The project focused on using the design of the school building itself to promote healthy behaviors and long-term attitudes of healthy eating and physical activity.

“The entire building is a classroom,” said the project’s Dr. Matthew J. Trowbridge, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

Every aspect of the school architecture — the furniture, color pallet, and materials — was designed to promote healthy behaviors. This project is the first of its kind and represents a brand new way of thinking about childhood obesity prevention.

“A kid is a kinetic, excited entity, and many of the design decisions that have been implemented here, including all the way down to the furniture choices are meant to let the child move,” said Trowbridge, also a major contributor to NCCOR’s green health activities.

The pilot tool is expected to evolve and be refined as its components are tested and evaluated through public health and design research.

The Healthy Eating Design Guidelines were published online Feb. 28 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

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