Proposed laws aimed at fixing childhood obesity

A pair of legislative bills could bring about major overhauls to schools’ physical education and food programs if they become law.

Senate Bill 210, House Bill 60 are being considered by the Ohio General Assembly target the growing problem of childhood obesity. At least one in three young people are diagnosed as overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control—a number has tripled over the past 30 years.

S.B. 210 and H.B. 373 were introduced simultaneously last fall and focus on monitoring student health, providing healthier food choices and increasing the amount of physical activity.

Both bills call for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity during the school day, an increase physical education requirements for high school students from one-half unit to one full unit, more nutritious foods and beverages in vending machines, a la carte menus and other school-operated venues and required body mass index screenings upon school entry and in third, fifth and ninth grade.

Melissa Bacon, director of public policy for the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, said the legislation was one piece of a larger healthy lifestyle program following a study by the Ohio Business Roundtable.

“The thought behind the council’s findings was to find ways to reduce high health care costs,” Bacon said. “Obesity was one of the largest factors, and so we got together with interested partners and focused on this issue.”
But, some health officials have concerns about how the new law would be implemented or enforced.

“We oppose the regulation of BMI,” said Dr. Laurie Mitan, a pediatrician who specializes in adolescents and eating disorders. “The BMI number doesn’t tell the whole story at all. Screenings like this need to be done in the context of a medical professional. Parents need to be given guidelines and may not understand what these numbers mean.”

Middletown City Schools has provided parents with student BMI information since the 2006-2007 school year, according to Student Services Director Susan Combs.

“We feel this is important information for parents to have,” Combs said. “There were some privacy concerns from parents at first, but once we assured them they would be the only ones getting this information, they’ve been more supportive.”

Combs said parents receive a letter with the screening results, along with recommendations to consult their family doctor if the student’s results indicate a weight problem.

Legislative advocates said education is key to combating childhood obesity, which is why it is a main focus of the bills.

“We would send home materials to help guide parents on how they can help their child,” Bacon said. “We see this as a community effort, not just a school effort.”

By Marie Rossiter, Staff Writer
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