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This is an archived entry from Round 1

Healthy Eating Design Guidelines

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Areas of Focus

  • policy changes related to childhood obesity

Quick Pitch

Design guidelines for school architecture focused on creating optimal 'healthy eating' learning environments for children & communities.


Our entry presents a new practice-oriented tool to help prevent childhood obesity, Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture (HEDG).

HEDG provides practitioners in both architecture and public health with a practical set of spatially-organized and theory-based strategies for making school environments more conducive to learning about and practicing healthy eating. The design guidelines cover multiple domains of the school food environment (e.g. cafeteria, serving lines & kitchen, school gardens, landscaping, other classroom spaces) as well as design strategies for strengthening connection to the surrounding community.

Creating school food environments that facilitate healthy eating among children is a recommended national strategy to prevent and reduce childhood obesity. Macro-environmental features such as the density of fast food outlets around schools have been found to impact dietary behavior. However, work to develop tools and research focused at the building scale (micro school environment) has been limited.

School design is known to impact student behavior, development, and academic performance. Food displays and time allotment for school meals can also impact children’s eating behaviors. There is now growing interest in how physical designs of school buildings (i.e., architecture, design of interior spaces, and landscaping) impacts school-level policies and practices, and subsequently, healthy eating behaviors and norms among children. The HEDG are intended to help define a set of theory- and evidence-based best practices in order to encourage further research and application.

The HEDG were developed over the course of a multi-year collaboration between academic public health researchers (Huang, Trowbridge, Frerichs) and school architects (VMDO architects). The project was inspired by the major redesign of Buckingham Primary and Buckingham Elementary Schools in Dillwyn, VA - a rural, ethnically diverse school district in central Virginia. The school district embraced the goal of creating an optimized 'healthy eating' learning environment as a goal of the school design alongside other goals such as environmental sustainability.

Development of the HEDG focused on providing a practical design tool that translated available evidence and theory from public health, education, and design research related to the impact of school design on health promotion and learning into useful guidelines for designers, school boards (design clients), and other public health researchers. The HEDG are organized by school food environment zones (e.g. kitchen, cafeteria, etc) per architectural convention. Within each zone, specific design strategies are provided based on five guiding principles:

1) Provide equipment and spaces that facilitate the incorporation of fresh and healthy food choices into the school and its community
2) Provide facilities to directly 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

Taken together, we hope that the HEDG can help inspire schools whose physical design itself helps to facilitate and foster obesity prevention programming. HEDG suggest school design features that help engage students and staff in learning about and participating in healthy eating practices. The HEDG also emphasize opportunities to use the building & grounds to 'merge' education about healthy eating, physical activity & environmental stewardship -- particularly through use of integrated architecture and landscape design features and an emphasis on flexible learning spaces (e.g. promoting the cafeteria as a classroom by providing integrated teaching facilities, integrated compost facilities, food 'lab' spaces, etc.) Our team is also working to create a prototype child-led tour guide to support / highlight principles of the HEDG and build a common language around the subject of health eating.

A unique component of the project is the on-going participation of VMDO architects and Buckingham School district in an evaluation of the HEDG implementation led by the academic team members. On-going development of the HEDG are planned using templates for success in the realm of health-oriented design tools such as the Active Design Guidelines developed in New York City. Associated figures with our entry show architectural renderings of the cafeteria, teaching kitchen, school garden and other spaces as well as in-progress construction photos (school to open for students Fall 2012).

Technical Proposal

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Personal Statement

The Healthy Eating Design Guidelines (HEDG) for school architecture are the result of a multi-year collaboration between leading academic public health researchers (Terry Huang PhD MPH & Matthew Trowbridge MD MPH) and the cutting-edge school architecture firm, VMDO Architects.

Dr. Huang and Dr. Trowbridge both serve as advisors to the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity research. Dr. Huang directed the Obesity Research Strategic Core within NICHD from 2005-2010. Dr. Trowbride served as chair for the built environment & transportation section of the CDC's 2012 Weight of the Nation Conference as was recently nominated as the 2012-2013 Ginsberg Fellow by the U.S. Green Building Council to support his work on health-focused design.

VMDO ( is a nationally recognized leader in sustainable school design based in Charlottesville, VA with numerous awards including a 2010 AIA COTE award for its design of Manassas Park Elementary.

Online References


1 Comment

  • Terry HuangAugust 28, 2012 at 4:30pm

    Our paper on this work has been accepted for publication by the CDC journal, Preventing Chronic Disease! We will also be presenting this work at The Obesity Society annual meeting in San Antonio next month.

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