While a recent annual report on obesity in America published by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that U.S. childhood obesity rates appear to be stabilizing, experts say those numbers are still too high. As children around the nation return to school, what can schools do to keep them healthy in and out of the classroom?

On Friday, the foundation hosted a Google+ Hangout “Back to School: Active Kids, Healthier Food” to discuss the importance of providing improved nutrition and more physical activity to schoolchildren in overcoming the nation’s obesity “epidemic.”

Susan Dentzer, senior policy adviser to RWJF, led five panelists in a virtual discussion on strategies schools and other organizations are using to keep children healthy with the support of the Alliance for Healthier Generations’ Healthy Schools Program.

“We’re very concerned about the disparities that still exist based on people’s socioeconomic status and among African Americans and Latinos. We know that access to healthier and affordable foods and safer physical activity environments are not evenly distributed across the country,” said Ginny Ehrlich, director of childhood obesity at RWJF. “It’s something that we need to do to really move the needle and turn the tide against obesity in the U.S.”

“This current generation of kids is the least active in history,” said Nathan Plowman, director of partnerships for Global Access To Sport at Nike. “We know that these inactive kids will struggle to reach their potential. They are more likely to become obese, to score lower on school tests, they will earn less as adults and have higher health costs.” At Nike, “we’ve been trying to make the case for physical activity as foundational to academic success, which is the primary goal of schools.”

Mickey Komins, principal at Anne Frank Elementary School in Philadelphia, shared several creative ways his school has begun putting the Alliance’s framework into action, including asking parents to bring healthy snacks, such as Greek yogurt or fruit cups, as a treat to school parties rather than cupcakes.

Going forward, panelists gave their tips on keeping up the positive momentum in schools. They agreed that a “top-down” approach — from policymaking at federal and state levels, to schools implementing new programs, to parent advocacy — was the best strategy to achieve significant change.

“There are three things that are really important to making a healthier school environment the norm and not the exception: leadership, ingenuity and implementation [of policies],” Ehrlich said.

“Changing culture can take time and energy,” said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project at Pew Charitable Trusts. “If we rally our troops around finding innovative solutions around the challenges we’re facing — learning from those schools that have been successful — we should be able to ensure that all kids have a healthy school environment.”

Visit RWJF’s Google+ event page to view an archived video of this hangout, and check out the Alliance’s website to learn more about its framework for schools.