Setting Food and Exercise Standards for Kids

By Christie, Kathy | Phi Delta Kappan, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Setting Food and Exercise Standards for Kids


Christie, Kathy, Phi Delta Kappan


THE political climate for addressing health issues in schools has changed significantly. Several years ago, as a local school board member, I proposed that the board set minimum nutrition standards for the foods served in our schools' cafeterias. A fellow board member told me that we had no business taking on the role of "food Nazis." While I made the case that school boards have an obligation to ensure healthy food choices, I lost that argument. Since that time, however, student health and nutrition have become significant issues in education policy deliberations.

GUBERNATORIAL LEADERSHIP AND LEGISLATIVE ACTION

In their 2005 state-of-the-state messages, 13 governors addressed health issues--ranging from suggestions to curb teen smoking to proposals for health initiatives geared toward improving the health of all citizens, not just that of children.

Gov. Mike Huckabee, for example, has established Healthy Arkansas, a comprehensive effort to define specific areas where behavioral changes can lead to healthier citizens. The Healthy Arkansas website provides information on nutrition, physical activity, and smoking cessation.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson suggested creating 34 new school-based health centers across the state, expanding physical education courses, curbing childhood obesity by phasing out junk food sales in schools, and encouraging vendors to provide healthy meals and healthy choices. Gov. Richardson also proposed bringing breakfast programs to elementary schools and creating an immunization registry, so that children's records will be kept in one central location accessible to all providers.

New York Gov. George Pataki stated his goal of launching the "Active-8 Kids" program--a comprehensive education and awareness campaign encouraging kids to be active, healthy, and physically fit. Also focusing on communication efforts to promote health, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds proposed launching a website designed to give citizens access to reliable information about making healthy food and exercise choices and convening a statewide summit on nutrition and physical activity to kick off the Healthy South Dakota initiative.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner touted the Healthy Virginians initiative, which offers state employees new incentives to promote wellness, gives schools a renewed emphasis on proper diet and physical fitness, and establishes new measures under the state's Medicaid program to encourage better prenatal care and promote healthier lifestyles. Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia proposed a three-part Healthy Start initiative that will give children the skills they need to help prevent childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Among its reasons for enacting H.B. 3499 (Physical Education, School Health Services, and Nutritional Standards), the 2005 South Carolina General Assembly asserted that:

* South Carolina ranks 10th among the states in the number of its residents who are overweight and obese;

* the number of overweight children in the state has tripled since the 1960s;

* the state ranks first in the U.S. in the number of strokes, third in heart disease, and 10th in diabetes; and

* 25% of the state's children aged 5 to 10 have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or other early warning signs of heart disease.

To date, 17 states have created committees or task forces focused on improving school nutrition and student fitness. Seven states have laws establishing nutritional standards for school meal programs that go beyond federal regulations. Ten state legislatures have mandated restrictions on the sale of foods that compete with the sale of school-provided meals. Thirteen states have instituted systems for reporting on nutrition or health. And six state legislatures have mandated rewards or incentives to encourage health-related programs.

NUTRITION-RELATED ACTIVITY

Arizona sought to implement a model nutrition policy at the state level by forming a coalition of key decision makers from within the school environment. …

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