Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2007

HJR 637: Joint Subcommittee Studying Childhood Obesity in Public Schools

July 11, 2007

The Joint Subcommittee Studying Childhood Obesity in Virginia's Public Schools held its first meeting in Richmond. HJR 637 directs the members to ascertain methods of combating childhood obesity in the public schools. Delegate John M. O'Bannon was elected chair and Senator Linda T. Puller was elected vice-chair. Delegate O'Bannon and Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Marilyn Tavenner, gave brief opening remarks, stressing the importance of addressing this issue at the state level.

Staff first gave a brief overview of the findings of last year's Senate Education and Health Special Subcommittee on Childhood Obesity, which was established to examine SB 206 from the 2006 Session. SB 206 would have required the Board of Education to promulgate regulations, in cooperation with the State Department of Health, establishing standards to facilitate the prevention and reduction of childhood obesity in the public schools and the division superintendents to complete instruction concerning the causes and consequences of overweight and obese students, and the relationship between nutrition and health.

During the 2006 interim, the special subcommittee held two meetings. The first meeting was focused on initiatives throughout the state aimed at combating obesity. The second meeting focused on local school board perspectives, where representatives of various school boards spoke about the difficulties in implementing healthier options in school cafeterias. The subcommittee also learned of Virginia's indefinite physical education requirements. The special subcommittee took no action on SB 206.

Lynne Fellin, a DOE spokesperson and a joint subcommittee member, updated the members on the DOE’s obesity-related initiatives. She detailed the implementation of the federally mandated local wellness policies. The policies are required of any school division that participates in the federal school lunch or school breakfast program. Ms. Fellin pointed out that in Virginia, no competitive foods may be sold during lunch periods, but otherwise the DOE does not regulate competitive foods, such as those sold in vending machines or school stores. Delegate O'Bannon and other joint subcommittee members agreed that they would like more information on what schools do with the funds raised by vending machine and other outside sales at the next meeting. The members were also interested in any information school divisions gathered on the height, weight, or body mass index of students. While representatives stressed that DOE data is not required to be reported, they agreed to gather any information that has been voluntarily reported for the next meeting.

Joe Hilbert, Department of Health, gave an update on the agency's efforts to prevent obesity. He explained that the final CHAMPION Report is due by the summer of 2008; this report is of a five year plan detailing which programs should be implemented throughout the state. At that time, the Health Department hopes to provide funding opportunities to implement these programs at the local level. He gave some examples of programs currently being funded by grants to various local health districts.

Mr. Hilbert discussed the upcoming Governor's Healthy Students Summit, which will take place in Richmond on September 20. Nearly 400 representatives of local school divisions and local health departments are expected to attend, where they will learn about recent collaborations between public education and public health for the prevention of childhood obesity. Participants will also learn how both the federal Local Wellness Policies and the Governor's Scorecard for Nutrition and Physical Activity can be used as tools in developing obesity prevention efforts.

Public Comment
After a brief public comment period, the chairman asked the members for their comments. Several members expressed an interest in seeing any available data on current obesity rates among Virginia's public school children. There was a general sense of agreement that childhood obesity is a complex issue, which will require a multifaceted approach. Public schools have limited control over student's exercise and eating habits, and many members commented on the need to involve families and communities, in order to change the culture that has led to such an increase in obesity rates.

Future Meetings
Delegate O'Bannon asked to hear from a representative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the next meeting. He also requested that the Department of Education report any information they have on obesity rates in various school divisions, as well as information on the funds raised by vending machine and other competitive food sales in schools. Staff was asked to gather information on what other states have done to combat childhood obesity. The next meeting of the joint subcommittee is scheduled for August 29, 2007, at the General Assembly Building in Richmond.

The Hon. John O'Bannon, III

For information, contact:
Jessica Eades, Nikki Seeds, DLS Staff


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