Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2007

HJR 637: Joint Subcommittee Studying Childhood Obesity in Public Schools

August 29, 2007

The Joint Subcommittee Studying Childhood Obesity in Virginia's Public Schools held its second meeting of the 2007 interim on August 29, 2007, with Delegate O'Bannon as chair. The chairman reminded the members of the Healthy Students Summit, sponsored by the Secretary of Education and Secretary of Health and Human Resources, held in Richmond on September 20, 2007. He encouraged the members to attend the program, which is designed to foster collaboration on this issue of local school divisions and health agencies.


Dr. Howell Wechsler, Director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Dr. Wechsler revealed how schools can prevent obesity and how states can assist them in doing so, but emphasized that there is no magic bullet solution to the issue of childhood obesity. He began with an overview and presented statistics on the prevalence of obesity among youth, and showed both health-related and economic consequences associated with obesity. Dr. Wechsler also drew the joint subcommittee's attention to current public opinion about school health programs, including that 65% believe schools should play a major role in fighting the obesity problem. In addition, 74% of parents believe schools should spend more time, or at least the same time, teaching health education as teaching other subjects.

Dr. Wechsler presented a strategy that included several options, making clear that any solution must be comprehensive in scope. First, he noted that any effective effort should be coordinated both across state agencies and also with nongovernmental agencies. Second, states should use state and local data from the out-set to guide decision making and policy formation. The CDC supports and publishes data gathered from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and recommends participation in the program. Virginia is one of two states that did not participate in the most recent 2005 survey, which compiled data on student’s dietary and weight control behavior, physical activity, and height and weight.

The joint subcommittee also heard about successful initiatives in other states, including grant programs for schools to implement health program improvement plans, statewide content requirements for local wellness policies, reporting requirements for school divisions on local wellness policy implementation, time requirements for physical education, nutrition standards, and statewide physical assessment programs.

Penny McConnell, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Fairfax County Public Schools
Ms. McConnell informed the subcommittee that, since 1986, the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) division has prohibited the sale of competitive foods (those foods not a part of the official school lunch program) for the entire school day. She also noted that FCPS has a new program for two types of vending. In middle and high school dining rooms, vending machines may only offer the same a la carte items that are available on the food serving lines and beverage machines may only offer milk, 100% juice, and water. Vending machines located outside of the dining rooms are only operational after the school day ends and may contain items other than those offered by the school lunch program offered by the school division.

There was also discussion of the FCPS local wellness policy that focuses on the whole child, the needs of the school community, and the activities of the school day. The policy incorporates the Governor's nutrition standards and the Institute of Medicine’s report from the Committee on Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools.

LaVern Davis, Supervisor of Health Services, and Barry Trent, Coordinator of Health Education, Physical Education, and Driver Education, Roanoke County Public Schools
Ms. Davis and Mr. Trent presented the Roanoke County Public School's Body Mass Index (BMI) Screening Program. Roanoke began the program "in an effort to determine the prevalence of weight problems" among the students in the school division. The program, initiated by the school health advisory board, is entering its fourth year of operation. The speakers noted that the initial goal of the program was to establish baseline data from which to identify the existence of children who are overweight and that are at risk for being overweight or underweight. The eventual goal of the program is to lower the number of students with weight problems.

The program incorporates several steps, including notification to parents of an upcoming screening test, which is held at the same time as existing vision and hearing screening tests in grades K, 3, 5, 7, and 10. The data is collected by a nurse and the calculated BMI and BMI percentiles are entered into a county-wide data management system. The results of the screening, which include the student's individual results, frequently asked questions, resources, and the county-wide results of the previous years screening, is mailed to the parent of each child that is tested. Finally, the school division analyzes the data and presents it to the superintendent and the school board. The Roanoke County Public Schools will continue to gather and interpret data, revise and refine resources sent to parents, and to use results to implement the county wellness policy.

Bonnie Conner-Gray, Educational Specialist, Henrico County Public Schools
Ms. Conner-Gray, an educational specialist in health, physical education, and driver education, spoke to the members about Henrico County's use of the wireless POLAR E-600 heart rate monitor, which downloads data on students' physical activity to a computer for documentation and analysis. Ms. Conner-Gray stated that the heart rate monitors provide students and teachers immediate feedback on the efficiency of physical activity. The heart rate monitors may also help reduce the risk of over-exertion and elevated heart rates during exercise, because students can monitor their own heart rate. Heart rate monitors may also motivate students to become accountable for their own physical fitness, and the available data may enable teachers to evaluate and improve their instruction.

Ms. Conner-Gray announced the findings of a Henrico County study that suggests academic performance increases when physical activity increases. The study results, which demonstrate a positive correlation between aerobic capacity and SOL scores, will be presented at the Henrico County School Board meeting in September.

David Thorp, Director of Government Affairs, American Beverage Association
Mr. Thorp discussed the American Beverage Association's May 2006 adoption of School Beverage Guidelines. The American Beverage Association along with Cadbury Schweppes, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, have developed guidelines to provide lower calorie, no-calorie, and nutritious and smaller-portion beverage options and to balance nutritional and hydration needs with appropriate caloric consumption. Elementary and middle school guidelines limit beverage offerings to water, milk, and juice, with an 8oz. serving available in elementary school, and a 10oz. serving available in middle school. High school students have up to a 12-ounce serving available and additionally can access diet soft drinks, diet and unsweetened teas, fitness waters, low calorie sports drinks, flavored waters, and seltzers. Additionally, at least 50% of the beverages available to high school students must be water or no-calorie or low-calorie options. These guidelines were adopted through a Memorandum of Understanding, which requires full implementation by August 2009.

Public Comments
The joint subcommittee heard comments from three citizens. A representative from the Virginia Center for Healthy Communities also encouraged the members to support the Walk for Children's Health on November 3, 2007. Money raised from the event will go to communities that have initiatives to prevent and treat childhood obesity.

Next Meeting
The joint subcommittee plans to have at least one additional meeting, to occur after the Healthy Students Summit on September 20, 2007.

The Hon. John O'Bannon, III

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


Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2007

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