Minnesota Parents Want Healthier Options in Schools; Few Are Asking for Them

Despite awareness of the connection between health and learning, recent poll reveals that only 12 percent of Minnesota parents have asked for healthier options at their children’s school.

EAGAN, MINN. (Sept. 13, 2016) –Minnesota parents and guardians are nearly unanimous (93 percent) in their belief that there is a connection between students’ health and their ability to learn and succeed in school, according to a recent poll conducted by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. Yet, a majority of those polled (69 percent) say they do not believe or are unsure if all Minnesota children currently have access to healthy food and opportunities for physical activity during the school day. 

Despite this, only 12 percent of Minnesota parents and guardians have actively asked their local school to provide healthier options. It isn’t due to a lack of support. Of the remaining respondents, 68 percent say they have been generally supportive of past proposals to include healthier options within school settings; only six percent say they have actively opposed changes. 

“There’s an undisputable connection between our surroundings – the places where we live, learn, work and play – and our health. For children, who spend a significant share of their day in school, this also has a significant impact on their learning and academic success,” said Janelle Waldock, vice president of community health and health equity at Blue Cross, who leads the organization’s Center for Prevention. “Parents and caregivers can play an important role by advocating for healthier options and encouraging schools to adopt programs, like Farm to School and active recess.”

One reason parents haven’t taken action may be their own sense of responsibility. Two-thirds (66 percent) of parents say they are responsible for ensuring their children eat healthy and have opportunities to be physically active. Yet, nearly as many (60 percent) also put at least some responsibility on schools. 

Strong Support for Solutions 
Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of those polled think that when it comes to students’ ability to succeed in school, it is important or very important to offer additional resources to students who are facing disparities due to their race, income, where they live, or other factors. This sentiment is strongest among those who believe that not all children have access to healthy food and physical activity during the school day, with 81 percent agreeing that some students should be offered additional resources. Parents who live in urban areas are also more likely to agree (85 percent), compared to those who live in suburban (74 percent) and rural areas (65 percent). 

Parents overwhelmingly agree that these four actions are important or very important steps that schools can take to ensure that students eat and learn about healthy food:
  • Provide students at least 20 minutes to eat their meals (95 percent);
  • Offer nutrition education (90 percent);
  • Decrease the amount of unhealthy food available during the school day (79 percent); and
  • Teach students where their food comes from (78 percent).
Likewise, a vast majority of parents say these actions are important or very important ways schools can help students be more active:
  • Provide opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities that encourage physical activity (92 percent);
  • Increase the time students are active during physical-education classes (87 percent);
  • Provide opportunities to participate in organized active games during recess or other breaks in the school day (83 percent); and 
  • Provide opportunities to safely walk or bike to school (81 percent).

Despite the concerns revealed by this poll, many schools are taking active steps to increase healthy options. For example, Willmar Middle School is implementing active classrooms, which incorporate physical activity into the existing curriculum of non-physical education classes such as math and science. In the metro area, Minneapolis’s Sanford Middle School has enhanced the universal breakfast program by adding “grab and go” breakfast carts throughout the school, thus increasing breakfast participation by 40 percent. 

Willmar and Sanford are among four schools across the state involved in the Health-Learning Connection project, a collaboration between participating schools and Blue Cross’s Center for Prevention. The project is helping bring healthier options to schools to improve student well-being and learning. Preliminary results from the project are anticipated in 2018. 

“It is inspiring to see the work being done throughout the state to create additional healthy options for Minnesota children,” said Waldock. “Parents and caregivers have a strong voice and can serve as a bridge between their school district and other local businesses and organizations, to inspire collaboration and create healthier communities for people of all ages.”

K-12 Poll Infographic

Click here to read about schools and communities working to create healthier school environments

Click here to read about key findings from the poll

The public-opinion online poll was commissioned by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and conducted by ORC International’s CARAVAN® Geographic Omnibus in July and August 2016. It consisted of 503 Minnesota parents and guardians of children aged 5 to 17. Respondents were 18 years of age and older. The margin of error is +/-4 percentage points for the full sample.

About the Center for Prevention

The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota delivers on Blue Cross’ long-term commitment to improve the health of all Minnesotans by tackling the leading root causes of preventable disease: tobacco use, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating. Funded through proceeds from Blue Cross’ historic lawsuit against the tobacco industry, they collaborate with organizations statewide to increase health equity, transform communities and create a healthier state. Visit CenterforPreventionMN.com for more information and to see a timeline celebrating the Center’s 10-year anniversary.

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (bluecrossmn.com), with headquarters in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan, was chartered in 1933 as Minnesota’s first health plan and continues to carry out its charter mission today as a health company: to promote a wider, more economical and timely availability of health services for the people of Minnesota. Blue Cross is a not-for-profit, taxable organization. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, headquartered in Chicago.

Media Contacts
  • Making Healthy Choices Possible for All Minnesotans

    The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota tackles the leading causes of preventable disease -- tobacco use, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating -- to increase health equity, transform communities and create a healthier state.