UAMS Receives Grant to Track Arkansas Childhood Obesity Levels

By todd

The legislation – Act 1220 – seeks to combat obesity among children in Arkansas. It is the most comprehensive law to date – eliminating vending machines in elementary schools, requiring annual Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement and reporting to parents, requiring annual reports on revenue from competitive food sales in schools, and requiring that new standards be created for physical education, nutrition, training and health curricula.

“Act 1220 was passed in 2003 by the 84th Arkansas General Assembly to combat obesity and related illnesses in school-age children and help improve their health,” said Martha Phillips, M.P.H., Ph.D., assistant professor at the UAMS Colleges of Medicine and Public Health and evaluation director for the study.

The UAMS College of Public Health and the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) will work together on the evaluation project. ACHI is a health policy research center jointly operated by UAMS, the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield.

ACHI will establish and maintain a database containing the BMI of every school-age child in Arkansas, from kindergarten to 12th grade. A child’s BMI is calculated based on the child’s height, weight, age and gender. ACHI has worked closely with schools and other partners to develop procedures for assessing and reporting each student’s BMI that protect the privacy of students and families and enhance the quality and usefulness of the information provided to parents.

“Providing schools with BMI reports of their students is one crucial step to improving the health of Arkansas’ children,” said Joseph Thompson, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine, director of ACHI and co-principal investigator for the study. “This grant funding will give us the baseline we need so the impact of the changes can be evaluated in the years ahead. It will allow us to identify school districts where rates of childhood obesity are highest, track changes in school policies and programs, record changes in behavior among kids and parents, track changes in kids’ BMI, and gauge reaction to the initiative.”

The College of Public Health will assess the implementation of Act 1220 by surveying parents, students and school personnel statewide. It will track how schools improve physical education classes and school nutrition, change vending machine offerings, and work with school nurses and other health care providers to improve screening and counseling for children with weight-related problems.

“The surveys will allow us to learn how the comprehensive Act 1220 programs are working and how we can adjust our efforts to counter the alarming increases in childhood obesity seen over the past decade,” said James Raczynski, Ph.D., dean of the UAMS College of Public Health and co-principal investigator for the study. “This is an extremely important project.”

“Arkansas has the opportunity to do something no other state has done – to make real changes and put information about children’s health into the hands of parents and families,” Phillips said.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee agrees. “Obesity is approaching smoking as the top preventable cause of death in this country. Those who make policy are beginning to realize we must be more proactive in trying to prevent the diseases and disabilities associated with obesity. This grant will allow Arkansas to be a national leader in this effort,” he said.

Arkansas Rep. Jay Bradford, the lead sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, said, “The original concept of Act 1220 was developed by Speaker Herschel W. Cleveland. We are both so pleased that Act 1220 is being recognized as progressive, comprehensive legislation that could positively impact the health of our children.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving health and health care for all Americans. The Foundation invests in initiatives that create meaningful and timely change and that help Americans lead healthier lives.