State Actions to Reduce and Prevent Childhood Obesity in Schools and Communities | Summary and Analysis of Trends in Legislation


Group of kids photoChildhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From 1980 to 2012, the percentage of children ages 6 to 11 in the United States who were obese increased from seven percent to nearly 18 percent. Among youth ages 12 to 19, obesity increased from five percent of adolescents in 1980 to almost 21 percent in 2012. Although some progress in reducing childhood obesity has recently been reported for very young children, in total, by 2012, more than one-third of American children and adolescents were either overweight or obese.

Health effects for obese children include development of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure; a greater likelihood of developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, and higher risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. Over the long-term, these health effects put obese children on a trajectory for costly and debilitating adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, a number of cancers and osteoarthritis.

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Healthy lifestyle habits, such as nutritious eating and a physically active lifestyle, can help to prevent or reduce obesity and the risk for associated health problems. Policymakers in many states have stepped up to create choices for healthy eating and active living in schools, child care facilities and communities where children and their families live. This report summarizes legislation and presents policy options for legislators interested in reducing and preventing childhood obesity in schools and communities.

State legislation summarized and categorized in this report was enacted during the 2012-2013 state legislative sessions. Policy analysis and research evidence presented in this report updates information contained in the previous NCSL reports.

The report summarizes enacted state legislation in two broad policy categories for healthy eating and physical activity—school-focused policies and community or statewide policies.  These are further divided into the 16 topic areas listed below:

School-Focused Policies for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

  • School Nutrition
  • Nutrition Education
  • Farm-to-School
  • Body Mass Index Measurement or Student Fitness Screening at School
  • Diabetes Screening and Management at School
  • Joint or Shared Use Agreements for School Facilities
  • Physical Activity or Physical Education in School and School Recess
  • Preschool Obesity Prevention
  • School Wellness Policies

Community or Statewide Policies for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

  • Access to Healthy Foods
  • Community Physical Activity through Bicycling and Walking/Complete Streets
  • Farmers’ Markets/Local Food Marketing/Sustainable Food Systems
  • Raising Awareness
  • Task Forces, Commissions, Studies, Grants and Other Special Programs
  • Taxes, Tax Credits, Tax Exemptions and Other Fiscal Incentives
  • Urban Agriculture/Community Gardens

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