Building Healthy Communities

Grantee Name

Teachers College, Columbia University (Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy)

Funding Area

Building Healthy Communities

Publication Date

March 2021

Grant Amount


Grant Date:

December 2018 - December 2019

Almost 1 in 3 children in New York State are overweight or obese, whereas 1 in 6 struggle with hunger—and the same child often faces both issues.

As a result, children confront physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges, as well as experience decreased academic performance. Schools are a prime place to tackle these health disparities and support growth, development, and academic achievement, as children spend a significant amount of their time there. Local wellness policies provide guidelines related to nutrition and the physical activity environment in schools, and are an important opportunity for districts and schools to create and support healthy school environments and reduce health disparities. Federal law requires that all school districts have a local wellness policy, yet many districts struggle to develop meaningful policies, and schools are challenged to fully implement them.

NYHealth awarded Teachers College, Columbia University, a grant to promote model local wellness policies for adoption by school districts in New York State.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Led the Wellness, Equity, & Learning Legislation (WELL) campaign to develop a model local wellness policy for New York State.
  • Generated original research to examine wellness policies in a sample of more than 100 school districts to identify best practices and gaps in New York State schools.
  • Built a coalition of campaign partners to conduct outreach and education activities with various stakeholders about local wellness policies and the need for a New York State model.
  • Garnered broad support for grassroots advocacy efforts through action alerts and digital and social media, inspiring thousands of New Yorkers to contact their representatives and urge action on school wellness.
  • Organized an Advocacy Day in Albany, which included a holding a press conference, educating policymakers, and conducting an interactive school wellness station. A group of more than 100 students also attended.

Its research found that New York school wellness policies lacked uniform strength and comprehensiveness, with most policies missing at least one federally required component, like school meal and snack nutrition standards. These results added urgency and credibility to the campaign and helped to identify priorities with parents, students, school health professionals and administrators, school boards, and other stakeholders.

The WELL campaign gained significant momentum in 2019 and early into 2020. Bills to establish a statewide model local wellness policy were introduced in the New York State Assembly and Senate education committees—making New York the first state in the nation to do so. But the emergence of COVID-19 abruptly upended these efforts. In 2021, the bill is under committee consideration.

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: The project was co-funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ($124,797), as part of its Voices for Healthy Kids program.