The Buckingham K-5 project is founded on an intensively collaborative planning process, involving a design-research partnership between VMDO Architects and public health researchers Dr. Terry Huang and Dr. Matthew Trowbridge from the University of Nebraska and University of Virginia, respectively. The design-research team’s broad mission, supported by Buckingham County Public Schools’ administrative leadership, begged the question: how can the design of the built environment influence the health of a community?
To start answering this central question, the design-research team developed a set of guidelines –“Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture” (2012, CDC) – to investigate how school environments can promote healthy eating and behavior. The design team then integrated these healthy eating design strategies into the comprehensive re-design of Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools.
The Healthy Eating Design Guidelines suggest five major strategies in the design of school environments:
1) DESIGN spaces that facilitate the incorporation of fresh and healthy food choices into the school.
2) DESIGN facilities that engage the school community in food production and preparation.
3) APPLY evidence- and theory-based behavioral science principles to “nudge” the school community towards healthy-eating behaviors and attitudes.
4) USE building and landscape features to promote awareness of healthy and sustainable food practices.
5) CONCEIVE and articulate school spaces as community assets to multiply the benefits of school-based healthy food initiatives.
Currently, the research team is using a rigorous qualitative-quantitative approach to examine the impact of the Buckingham school’s re-design on: 1) the adoption of school policies, programs, and practices that promote healthy eating; 2) school personnel’s attitudes and practices toward healthy eating; and 3) students’ behaviors, knowledge, attitudes, self-efficacy, and intentions toward healthy eating. The impact of these guidelines and research, forthcoming this summer 2014, is expected to improve schools’ ability to adopt healthy programming and support the well-being of students.
We can take the following actions to support healthy school environments:
- Implement policies that will ensure healthy food environments
- Modify school environments to “nudge” students to opt for healthier food options and increased activity
- Decrease the marketing and availability of unhealthy foods
- Encourage meaningful physical activity
- Lead by example: administrators and teachers become role models in the school setting