Schools get fit | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Schools get fit

Posted By on Tue, Jun 17, 2008 at 9:12 AM

Rather than mush this in with the item about how convicts tend to be fit, I think it best to devote a separate item to a UAMS news release about progress made by Arkansas public schools under the measures intended to encourage healthier kids -- weight monitoring, reduction of availability of sugary drinks and junk food in schools, etc.

Though the figure may represent a big improvement, I still don't understand -- outside of the lure of the easy money -- why 4 in 10 Arkansas school districts still peddle junk food. And secondary schools are still peddling soda pop, too, though they must make other drinks available.


Arkansas Schools, Parents Adjusting Well to Obesity Law

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas’ public schools are stepping up efforts to keep junk food away from kids, and parents are becoming more proactive in curbing children’s unhealthy habits at home, according to the fourth annual evaluation of the state’s childhood obesity law, Act 1220 of 2003.

School superintendents now report that 61 percent of school districts in Arkansas have policies prohibiting junk foods in vending machines, up from just 18 percent in 2004, according to the evaluation conducted by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health. The full report can be found online at

School principals also report that 26 percent of vending items at schools are in a healthy category, up from 18 percent in the evaluation’s first survey four years ago.

With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the College of Public Health uses interviews and surveys of teachers, administrators, students, their families and a variety of key informants 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 implementation of Act 1220 is proceeding extremely well,” Raczynski said. “Parents, students, school personnel and communities appear to understand the purpose of the act and are finding ways to achieve its goals.”

According to the evaluation, the majority of parents continue to be aware of Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements, express minimal concern about confidentiality and indicate comfort with receiving a BMI report from school. BMI measurement is used as a screening method to identify possible weight problems.  The BMI screening is a key part of Act 1220 and state leaders’ efforts to reduce obesity levels that have become epidemic in Arkansas and the nation, creating unprecedented health problems for children and high risk for health problems in later life. The BMI measurements are calculated using height and weight, age and gender. The results are sent to parents along with an explanation of their children’s BMI levels and appropriate recommendations.

The health implications associated with obesity are serious. In adults, obesity is linked to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, sleep disorders, orthopedic problems and some cancers. Children also are being diagnosed with health problems previously seen only in adults. Obese children are at greater risk than their normal-weight peers for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and orthopedic problems.

The fourth-year evaluation revealed for the first time percentages among parents trending towards enforcing a healthier atmosphere at home, resulting from new initiatives and efforts being enforced at schools.


“This is the first year we’ve seen that both parents and children are making healthier changes in physical activity, what they keep to eat and drink around the house and in the amount of time they allow their children to watch television or play video games,” Phillips said. “We’re not just affecting the school environment, but we’re starting to see changes in the home environment, which, if they continue, are very positive signs of changes that complement and support those being made in schools.”


The report also revealed that 72 percent of students increased physical activity, up 10 percent from the previous year’s study.


These most recent evaluation results come on the heels of a recent national study released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows that the percentage of overweight or obese children is leveling off nationally after 25 years of increases.


“Arkansas’ passage of Act 1220 has put the state in the spotlight nationally, with other states continuing to look to Arkansas as a model for tackling their own obesity problems,” Raczynski said. “I think the changes in our schools are probably more significant than in other states and that we’re leading the trend nationally and will see continued improvements.”


In addition, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement secured funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to analyze and report BMI results at the statewide, district and individual school levels.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,538 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 9,600 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. Visit


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