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Question of the Month ~ April 2013

 

Q. What have Midwestern states done to address childhood obesity?

Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past three decades, leading to a rise in state efforts to combat the trend. And since children spend much of their day in school, new state laws and regulations have focused on the types of foods and levels of physical activity offered at school.
Actions taken by Ohio and Minnesota exemplify two different comprehensive approaches that have been taken by states in this region.
Ohio’s SB 210, enacted in 2010, restricts the sale of certain foods and beverages to students, provides public and charter schools with free computer software to assess the nutritional value of foods (and restricts the sale of certain foods in the lowest nutritional category), and establishes a council to monitor student wellness.
In 2008, as part of a comprehensive health care reform law, Minnesota created the Statewide Health Improvement Program, which awards competitive grants to community health boards and tribal governments that implement evidence-based strategies to reduce obesity and tobacco use.
In more recent years, a number of other measures involving school nutrition or physical activity have been passed or are under consideration.
As the result of 2010 federal legislation, national standards are being set for food products sold on school grounds. States can complement these standards not only through stricter regulations, but also by raising the nutritional quality of foods sold or consumed.
In 2012, for example, Ohio required that at least 50 percent of beverages (other than milk) sold in schools be water or contain no more than 10 calories per eight ounces. This year, Illinois is considering HB 77, which would ban trans fat in most foods provided to Chicago Public Schools students. (The ban would not apply to foods provided under a U.S. Department of Agriculture meal program.) Meanwhile, laws promoting farm-to-school programs, which bring local fresh produce to school cafeterias, have been enacted in states such as Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Regarding physical education, Illinois is the only state in the Midwest that requires it in every grade (K-12). Only Kansas and Michigan require elementary schools to provide daily recess, while Iowa requires a minimum weekly amount of physical activity for all K-12 students.
Indiana is among the states now considering stronger requirements; SB 333, introduced earlier this year, would require schools to provide at least 30 minutes of daily PE. In Illinois, a multidisciplinary task force is updating the state’s learning standards for physical development and health. The task force, formed as the result of last year’s passage of HB 3374, must develop standards based on neuroscience research about the relationship between physical activity and learning.
According to the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Illinois is also one of three Midwestern states (along with Iowa and Ohio) that collects information from schools on students’ body mass index (BMI) measures or other health indicators. These weight-related screenings are designed to assess rates of childhood obesity and evaluate programs intended to reduce obesity.

 

Question of the Month response by Laura Kliewer, a CSG Midwest senior policy analyst.