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Year Four Evaluation: Arkansas Act 1220 of 2003 to Combat Childhood Obesity

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Abstract:

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' College of Public Health (COPH) is evaluating the implementation of Act 1220 of 2003, an Arkansas law that calls for school personnel, state health officials and legislators to implement policies to promote better nutrition and more physical activity in public schools statewide.

With Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funding, a team of COPH investigators, led by Jim Raczynski, Ph.D. and Martha Phillips, Ph.D., conducts an annual evaluation to assess how the Act impacts school environments, parental knowledge of childhood obesity issues, and the nutrition and physical activity behaviors of Arkansas students and their families. The evaluation team also analyzes how schools, parents and students are responding to annual body mass index (BMI) assessments mandated by Act 1220. This report summarizes the most recent findings from the fourth year evaluation.

Sources of data included: Key informant interviews with 105 individuals involved in the fourth year of the implementation of Act 1220; written surveys completed by 832 principals and 171 superintendents; and telephone interviews conducted with families whose children attended Arkansas public schools, including 2,202 parents and 347 adolescents.

Key Findings:

* The evaluation documents an increase in policies prohibiting the sale of “junk foods” and guiding school personnel in the selection of more healthful food options for school-sponsored activities.
* Individual schools and school districts continued to implement policies to reduce the use of physical activity as punishment, and to require that lifetime physical activities be included in physical education programs.
* The BMI assessments were not a highly controversial issue among principals, parents and adolescent students but superintendents reported that the BMI measurement process imposed a substantial burden on schools.

Year 4 data show an increasing trend among parents to limit “junk foods” at home and a significant increase in the percentage of parents who are limiting screen time to give their children more time for physical activity. For the third consecutive year, parents and adolescents have not reported significant increases in potentially negative outcomes of any of the Act 1220 mandates, including the BMI assessments.