According to the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICH), out of the fifty states in these United States, Virginia ranks 27 in overall prevalence of obesity. Thirty-one percent of children, ages 10 – 17, are considered overweight or obese (Childhealthdata.org). The state of Virginia is attempting to combat this epidemic with the introduction of House Bill SJ 85 Childhood obesity; encouraging physical activity in public schools to reduce this epidemic.
In 2013, Virginia passed House Bill 2028, which required local school boards to incorporate school wellness policies that focused on a goal of implementing some type of physical fitness activity for all students for a minimum of 150 minutes per week (or 30 minutes of exercise per school day) (www.ncsl.org). As of January 2016, this new policy has not been implemented on a statewide level as of yet.
House Bill SJ 85 was introduced in 2016 to ensure that students get some form of structured exercise, preferably under the supervision of a wellness expert, at some point during each day; be it after school sports or physical education class. In conjunction, the joint subcommittee will explore different methods of combating childhood obesity in Virginia’s public schools. The focus of the committee will revolve around appropriate nutrition, education and involvement strategies for implementing parental support, and continually gathering data from surrounding states and their fluctuating levels of childhood obesity.
As an educator, an athlete, and a nutritionally focused individual, I emphatically support this bill. We find ourselves in a time within our school systems where we continually cut “excess” and “non-essential” time from students to cram more content down their throats in preparation for the SOLS. A large number of schools have eliminated the idea of recess all together and have had to cut non-curricular classes like P.E., art, dance, and music. I believe that we have taken our obsession with test scores too far, to the point that we are no longer able to provide our students a well-rounded education consisting of content AND important life skills, such as proper nutrition practice and physical movement.
A second hugely important aspect, not addressed in this particular bill, is the access to healthy and wholesome foods.
We can’t fix this issue unless we address all sides of it, and a healthy breakfast and lunch is a huge component of this. Frozen pizza and French fries should not be offered on a daily basis for student consumption. It is unrealistic to think that a middle school or high school student will make a healthy choice in food selection when presented with either pizza or salad.
Before House Bill SJ85 can be implemented across the state of Virginia, the Senate will need to vote on the feasibility of this bill and determine if it is in the best interest of not only students but the schools that house them. Once the policy has officially been adopted by the legislative body, it will be dispersed across the state to be implemented by local departments of education or boards of education. The problem with the implementation phase is that these items are not immediately adopted by individual boards of education and put into action. This can be seen from the 2013 ruling of HB 2028. HB 2028 was adopted on a legislative level yet on a practical level, it was rarely implemented or “forced” into schools.
After approval of JS 85, an effective implementation approach for this bill would be to combine strategies to focus on the long-term success of this policy. This strategy of implementation could employ horatory policies, inducements, capacity building, and finally mandates. To build excitement and interest in this program, the principal of the school could start the year with a focus on health, not weight, but nutrition and fitness. The school could be blanketed with posters for motivation and the year could start with an assembly on the benefits of fitness. Perhaps there could be an “around the world” challenge to see if collectively, all students, faculty, and staff, could walk enough steps to walk around the whole world together through the course of the year.
Inducements could be used as a motivational tool by the administration to put on contests throughout the year in terms of number of glasses of water consumed, number of fruits/vegetables eaten per day, number of hours of sleep per night, number of miles walked/run, minutes meditating, etc…with the wining students being awarded prizes for their hard work.
Capacity building could be used to hire staff that are professionals in the realm of health and wellness. This funding could also be used to improve or create a comprehensive weight room, yoga studio or room with necessary auxiliary equipment, and a school wide collection of pedometers.
Finally, mid-way through the year, the principal could implement a mandate for students and staff that are not intrinsically motivated to participate in this program. Penalties for violations would need to be creative. They should not include running or walking around the track for the required minutes as one would not want to associate fitness with punishment. Perhaps time with the wellness instructor, acting as an assistant instructor or working in the kitchen to help prepare healthy foods would be an effective and efficient penalty for violation of the mandate.
I believe that the formulation and implementation of SJ85 will be extremely beneficial to the student population as a whole. As I think about the flow of the day in any given school across this country, the immediate issue that jumps out at me is the lack of time and the ability to incorporate this into the curriculum. Physical education is essential and should carry a student through their entire educational career. The data shows that small breaks (@20 mins) to be outside and play have immeasurable affects on learning and attention span. This is not at all surprising to me.
I think this new policy would fit best into the school day in the early morning. Ideally, the students would work through a structured practice with a wellness instructor that would entail 2 days of yoga, 1-2 days of weights, and 1-2 day of running. If the student participated in this program each morning, the results would be immediate and astronomical.
The value of this implementation is beyond measure. We spend so many hours each year focusing on the fitness of the brain and we should, without a doubt, be focused on the development of the whole self, body and brain included. To combat obesity while a child is young will be much easier to recover from and work on strategies that will be beneficial throughout a lifetime versus waiting until these children are 50 and suffering from ailments such as joint pain, stroke, heart disease, and so on.
There really is no greater gift that we could give our students. In 5 years, they will not remember the answers to the SOL questions but they will most certainly remember how to make healthy food choices and lifestyle choices that will benefit their well-rounded health.