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Transparency and Oversight in Local Wellness Policies

Chriqui JF, Chaloupka FJ. Journal of School Health, 81(2): 114-121, 2011.

Background: Advocates have called for increased wellness policy transparency and oversight through the use of health advisory councils. This study examines (1) wellness policy transparency, (2) advisory council requirements, (3) factors associated with each, and (4) whether transparency or advisory council requirements are indicative of a stronger policy addressing nutrition and physical activity.

Methods: Policies for school year 2007-2008 were obtained from a nationally representative sample of 641 districts and analyzed for their applicability to elementary, middle, and high school levels. Main outcome measures included (1) policy transparency (online availability), (2) advisory council requirements, and (3) overall policy strength. T-tests assessed variability in policy strength by transparency and advisory council requirements. Multivariate logistic and linear regression analyses controlled for district size, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, region, and locale; models of advisory council/policy strength relationships also controlled for state advisory council requirements.

Results: More than 41% of districts posted wellness policies online and more than 43% required advisory councils. Transparency was less likely in small-/medium-sized and non-southern districts; and, for elementary school policies, most common in majority Hispanic districts. Advisory council requirements were less likely in small-/medium-sized districts for middle/high school policies and more likely in majority Hispanic districts for elementary school policies. After adjusting for all covariates, transparency was not associated with policy strength, but advisory council requirements significantly predicted policy strength.

Conclusions: Transparency may facilitate awareness, but it does not mean that wellness policies will be stronger; however, advisory council requirements may be a marker for stronger policies.

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