Arkansas Public Schools Continue to Curb Obesity Trend

By Nate Hinkel

The survey and report, conducted by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, identifies several key trends, including a sustained effort from school districts to prohibit junk foods, most significantly a continuation of the steady decline of school districts that have contracts with soft drink companies. The 80 percent of school districts in the state that had such contracts in 2004 declined to 64 percent in 2010.

The percentage of schools reporting compliance with state regulations prohibiting student access to vending machines during lunch periods increased. The report shows 77 percent of schools with vending machines curbed student access in 2010, a 6 percent improvement from the previous year.

Full reports for each year can be found online at

The UAMS College of Public Health used interviews and surveys of teachers, administrators, students and their families and a variety of other key groups to evaluate the impact of Act 1220. The evaluation’s lead investigators are College of Public Health Dean Jim Raczynski, Ph.D., and Martha Phillips, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAMS Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology. The research and the production of the report were supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“This review process once again confirms that Act 1220 is indeed working toward creating a healthier environment in schools across the state,” Raczynski said. “Parents, students, school personnel and communities are working together to help our children establish healthy habits at a young age – and we’re integrating these important lessons into our public school system.”

The current evaluation also found that school superintendents are working to find solutions to time constraints during the school day to allow more time for students to participate in physical activity and to meet physical education requirements. Only 58 percent of elementary schools in 2004 had regularly scheduled recess compared to 70 percent in 2010. That number is up from 64 percent the previous year.

Parents also show improved commitment to Act 1220’s goals as percentages rose nearly 5 percent from 2009 to 2010 in those that prefer three or more days a week of physical education at elementary (75 to 79 percent), middle (79 to 83 percent) and high schools (70 to 75 percent).

“Since the passage of Act 1220, parental awareness of health problems associated with childhood obesity has also increased,” Phillips said. “In 2010, 90 percent of parents said that obesity is a serious problem for the state, while 79 percent indicated they believe schools play an important role in combating childhood obesity.”

Raczynski said that overall since its creation in 2004, Act 1220 reports have shown greatest improvements and progress in the first three to four years after the passage of the legislation. But continued long-term studies are necessary to continue identifying important trends that lead to better implementation of programs and initiatives to make Arkansas schools healthier places.