Addressing health disparities for children and families of color

While working on school discipline policies, parents began to see that children who were denied recess or other breaks for physical activity during the school day were more likely to act out in class and that this detracted from their learning. Upon further research, they learned that, in 2005, 82% of Chicago elementary schools didn’t have recess at all and that the schools without recess were primarily located in low-income communities of color, where childhood obesity was also an issue.  After years of hard work, organizing and advocacy, in 2012, parents won the return of recess for ALL 266,000 Chicago public elementary students!

Parent leaders have gone on to work on a range of health issues, including environmental issues in school, like air quality, that contribute to asthma and students missing school and food insecurity for low-income families. Working in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Illinois No Kid Hungry Campaign, parents launched a Food Ambassador program where parents go door-to-door each summer to provide more than 15,000 families with information about free federal summer meals programs.  In 2015, parent leaders helped pass Illinois state legislation that expanded SNAP (food stamp) benefits eligibility to 40,000 more Illinois families!

Recess, Food and Health Campaign in the News

“Recess for All!  A CDC Success Story”

“Volunteers Spread the Word about Summer Meals in Chicago”

“Recess is Back at the Chicago Public Schools”


Background on the Campaign

  • In 2005, 82% of Chicago public elementary schools did not have daily recess.
  • Nationally, African-American students have less time for recess than their white counterparts.
  • One out of every three African-American students in elementary school doesn’t have recess, whereas one out of every six white students doesn’t have recess.
  • Childhood obesity has hit alarmingly high rates among Latino and African-American children and health disparities are growing.


  • Reinstate recess and breaks, including more physical education in school days.
  • Build allies in the children’s health community, especially among those working to address childhood obesity.
  • Actively ensure implementation of recess.
  • Engage in other health justice issues including access to healthy foods, improved school environments, ending food insecurity, universal breakfast, and community walkability.

Highlights and Victories

POWER-PAC kicked off the Recess for All! campaign with a street theater press conference in 2005, and the issue resonated immediately with the media. By 2007, parents had identified legislative allies and introduced a bill to mandate recess statewide. POWER-PAC brought 100 parents and children to Springfield to lobby their legislators and testify in legislative hearings.

State legislation created the Statewide Recess Task Force in 2011, and a POWER-PAC parent was appointed by the governor to the group. The Task Force recommended reinstating recess throughout the state.

This strategy created a groundswell in Chicago, and, in 2012, the Chicago Public Schools reinstated recess for all 260,000 Chicago elementary school students. Since then, POWER-PAC and CPS have co-hosted forums on CPS Recess Guidelines and worked to assure parents across the city know that these policies, negotiated with parents, say that withholding recess is not to be used as a disciplinary procedure and that recess is to include free play. In 2014, CPS adopted a policy to return daily physical education to every student.

In 2013, parents combined forces with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Illinois No Kid Hungry Campaign to work to end food insecurity for low-income families.  Parents have gone door-to-door every summer since then, reaching out to over 15,000 families to inform them of free summer meal sites in their neighborhoods.

Most recently, parent leaders worked on policies and legislation to end food insecurity which, in 2015, led to an expansion of SNAP benefits (food stamps) to 40,000 Illinois families through legislation signed in the summer of 2015 by the Governor.