Panel Paper: The Impact of School-Level State Obesity Policies On Youth's Physical Activity, Eating Habits, and Self-Awareness

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 10:05 AM
Hanover A (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Venkata K Nadella, Indiana University, Bloomington and Haeil Jung, Korea University

Childhood obesity and overweight have been on a dramatic rise for the past few decades. This trend has drawn serious public concern since childhood obesity increases health risks such as diabetes and heart disease in adulthood. The effects of obesity are not only limited to individuals’ health but also include societal costs such as rise in public health care expenditure and decrease in labor productivity. In order to tackle this health epidemic on children, state and local legislations have targeted a wide variety of channels – notably; physical education, health and nutrition education, body mass index (BMI) reporting, requirements for health educators, and school food environment; which includes changes to school lunch/breakfast programs, nutritional standards for foods in schools, and vending machine regulations.

Through a thorough analysis of state legislations, using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), and The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) databases, we found that a majority of strongly enforced legislations at the school level were targeted at improving youth’s eating habits, physical activity, and self-awareness of their weight. Most of the legislations were related to improving the school food environment, physical education (PE class) requirements, and BMI reporting to children’s parents.  Previous studies which evaluated early policy changes in late 1990s and early 2000s, found that requirements of PE curricula can increase student physical activity. Considering that most state obesity policies enforced at the school-level were enacted in mid- 2000s, it is critical to have a more comprehensive study on the impact of state legislations on eating habits, physical activity, and personal awareness of school-going youth.

In this paper, we use the state Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data from 2001 to 2009, from 30 states, to study the impact of legislations on the behavioral patterns of school-going youth among states that actively enforce these legislations versus those that don’t. The state YRBSS conducted by state departments of health and education is a state representative survey of high school students (grades 9–12) that monitors prevalence of risky youth behaviors, including those relating to obesity, physical activity/ exercise habits and eating habits. Our preliminary results suggest that legislations on school food environment, PE class and Physical Activity have not been effective in improving physical activity, eating habits, and self-awareness of their weight among youth in the United States. We find that PE class participation of high school students is consistent over time; 60-70% for students aged 15 and below compared to 30-40% among students aged 16 and above. Eating habits of youth have remained consistent over time with 20% of students not consuming milk, fruit juices or fruit even once a week. On the other hand, BMI reporting legislations are marginally effective among females aged 16 and above with 85% having a correct perception of their weight, up from 80% prior to legislation.