Factors impacting implementation of nutrition and physical activity policies in rural schools




Ausenhus, Caryn
Gold, Joshua M.
Perry, Cynthia K.
Kozak, Andrea T.
Wang, Monica L.
Jang, Sou Hyun
Leong, Judy
Rodriguez, Edgar
Duggan, Catherine
Ko, Linda K.

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BACKGROUND: Rural Latino children have higher rates of obesity compared to non-Latino Whites. Schools are in a unique position to address rural childhood obesity through policies. While evidence exists on factors that promote or impede school-based physical activity (PA) and nutrition policies, only a fraction has been in rural communities. This study seeks to understand 1) the knowledge and perceptions of school nutrition and PA policies and 2) barriers and facilitators to their implementation among rural school stakeholders from Washington State.

METHODS: We conducted 20 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with school stakeholders (e.g., principals and school nutrition directors) from four K–12 school districts in the Lower Yakima Valley of Eastern Washington State. Thematic analysis was conducted using inductive, constant comparison approach to identify themes around knowledge and perceptions of policies and barriers and facilitators of policy implementation.

RESULTS: Three main themes were identified: perceptions and knowledge of school PA and nutrition policies, barriers to policy implementation, and facilitators of policy implementation. The majority of stakeholders were supportive of school-based policies promoting PA and a healthy diet, even when lacking a specific understanding of these policies. Four subthemes were identified as barriers to policy implementation: viewing PA as a low priority, misuse of recess time, funding constraints, and lack of strong leadership. Facilitators of implementation included strong leadership at the district level, creating healthy norms through school-community linkages and pooling community resources to improve nutrition and PA among children.

CONCLUSIONS: Schools provide a unique setting to promote healthy diet and PA behaviors among children and their families. Study findings show that while knowledge of specific nutrition and PA policies may vary, support for such policies were high among rural stakeholders. Study findings can inform policy development and support strategies for policy implementation in rural settings. Future studies may want to examine whether implementation of strategies addressing the barriers and enhancing facilitators lead to success in rural school settings.



Childhood obesity, Rural school, Nutrition, Physical activity, Latino students, Implementation


Ausenhus, C., Gold, J.M., Perry, C.K. et al. Factors impacting implementation of nutrition and physical activity policies in rural schools. BMC Public Health 23, 308 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-15176-y