School design guidelines to help promote healthy eating published in CDC journal

A newly available pilot tool made possible through an innovative collaboration between architects, schools, and scientists is part of a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to improve school environments for children’s health by engaging new partners.

The Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture provides practitioners in architecture and public health and school system decision makers 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.

Dr. Terry Huang, now of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and a National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research contributor, proposed architecture as a new approach to decreasing childhood obesity while with the National Institutes of Health in 2006.

The Healthy Eating Design Guidelines, published online Feb. 28 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Preventing Chronic Disease, cover 10 domains of the school food environment (e.g., cafeteria, kitchen, garden) and five core healthy eating design principles.

The manuscript also describes a pilot implementation of the guidelines by VMDO architects for the Buckingham Elementary School redesign project in Dillwyn, Va. The school systems used the tool to improve its ability to adopt a healthy nutrition curriculum and promote healthy eating.

Watch a video describing the project here.

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

“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 part of the NCCOR Coordinating Center.

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

Interest in the design of school buildings – architecture, interior design, and landscaping – and its effects on school policies and practices and the subsequent eating behaviors and norms among children is mounting.

NCCOR and the National Academy of Environmental Design, in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council Center for Green Schools, hosted an October 2011 workshop exploring how childhood obesity prevention can be integrated into school-based sustainability and green building initiatives and frameworks.

“The workshop really helped us get all the people from various disciplines at the table collaborating. That and follow-on work led us to the Guidelines,” Dr. Trowbridge said.

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.

View the full manuscript describing the process developing and pilot testing the Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for Architecture here.

Learn more about NCCOR’s green health work here.

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