Many Arkansas Schools Providing Healthier Food Choices

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas’ public schools for a second year continued to make voluntary changes to their vending machine policies and other food offerings, according to a report issued today by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).


The latest evaluation of the effects of Act 1220 of 2003, the state’s childhood obesity law, was presented to the Arkansas Legislature’s interim House and Senate Committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor at the state Capitol.


The report says changes include prohibiting the use of food as a reward, offering more fruits and vegetables on lunch menus, removing deep fryers and increasing the availability of low-fat and low-sugar beverages and snacks.


UAMS’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health used interviews and surveys of teachers, administrators, students and their families to evaluate the effectiveness of Act 1220, which is designed to combat childhood obesity. The evaluation’s lead investigators, College of Public Health Dean James M. Raczynski, Ph.D., and Martha Phillips, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAMS Colleges of Medicine and Public Health, made today’s presentation. 


Act 1220 requires a body mass index screen for all public school students. For a second year the screening found that 38 percent of Arkansas students were either overweight or at risk of being overweight. The law also required the establishment of a statewide Child Health Advisory Committee, which proposed rules and regulations that were adopted by the state Board of Education on Aug. 8, 2005.


The new regulations prohibit student purchases from vending machines until 30 minutes after the last lunch period and limit the beverage size to 12 ounces. There are no other statewide restrictions on the types of snacks sold. Also, districts do not have to comply with the beverage size limit or any other locally proposed changes if a vending contract was in place prior to Aug. 8, 2005, and the change would conflict with the contract.


The law also required the creation of Local Nutrition and Physical Activity Advisory Committees, a key ingredient for voluntary changes seen at many schools, Raczynski said. 


“Local school environments are beginning to change, and many are providing healthier choices for their students because of the recommendations by the local advisory committees,” Raczynski said.


Schools may serve foods of minimal nutritional value at only nine events a year, according to state regulations. The state also requires schools to provide a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week. 


Some of the specific evaluation results include:

  • The percentage of schools prohibiting the use of food as a reward to students increased from 7 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2005.
  • The percentage of schools offering fruit and vegetable snacks in vending machines went from 6 percent to 9 percent.
  • 23 percent of schools offered skim or 1 percent milk in vending machines in 2005 compared with 15 percent in 2004.
  • Overweight children reported no increase in teasing due to their weight after the BMI measurement, no increase in the use of diet pills, and no increase in skipping meals.
  • 74 percent of principals and 71 percent of superintendents reported no real problems with the BMI measurements. Of those who did, the most common were logistics, time away from academic instruction, and negative feedback from parents.
  • 58 percent of parents said that middle and high schools should not have vending machines, the same as in 2004.
  • 95 percent of parents believe vending machines should offer at least some healthy snacks or only healthy snacks, compared to 94 percent in 2004.

The UAMS College of Public Health, with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, secured funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support the partial implementation and a three-year evaluation of Act 1220.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,320 students and 690 medical residents. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with almost 9,000 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the VA Medical Center. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.3 billion a year.