State legislatures in 2011 continued to enact laws to promote healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity, according to a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Although the overall level of activity was not as high as in 2010 in terms of number of bills enacted—60 bills in 2011 compared with 77 in 2010—more states enacted laws than in the previous year—31 states in 2011 compared with 29 in 2010.
In the broad policy category of healthy eating and physical activity, most of the legislative activity was in two areas: 1) school nutrition and nutrition education, and 2) physical activity and physical education. Thirteen states passed bills related to school nutrition/nutrition education, complementing the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that reauthorized the national School Lunch and School Breakfast programs while setting higher nutrition standards for school meals. In addition, six states passed bills on physical education/physical activity, including laws requiring schools to preserve time for activity during the day.
In the broad policy category of healthy community design and access to healthy food, legislation remained stable in the areas of active transportation and local food marketing—the topics with the highest levels of activity in past years. For example, three states passed complete streets bills in 2011, bringing the total number of states with such policies to 26—more than half the nation.
Within these broad categories, states enacted a variety of policies, including ones that sought to:
- improve access to healthy foods and beverages in a variety of school venues, including meals, à la carte lines, stores and vending machines;
- require schools to preserve time for physical activity during the day;
- create new statewide programs to get locally grown produce to schools, and help schools get the equipment they need to prepare fresh foods; and
- make it easier for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to use their benefits to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets.
The findings are part of the 2011 edition of State Actions to Promote Healthy Communities and Prevent Childhood Obesity: Summary and Analysis of Trends in Legislation, an annual analysis conducted by NCSL examining state legislative action to address childhood obesity.
The report was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its Leadership for Healthy Communities program.