The Program Being Evaluated
In 2005, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III signed into law House Bill 2816—the Healthy Lifestyles Act—to help address the state’s obesity epidemic. The law was passed in recognition of the burden that obesity and weight-related health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, place on the state’s health care infrastructure. The Healthy Lifestyles Act reflects the state’s desire to promote healthy eating and regular physical activity through policy change and education. Implementation of the Act’s school-based components, which provide policy direction for physical education, health education assessments, fitness assessments, body mass index (BMI) assessments and the availability of vended beverages on campus, began in August 2006.
About the Evaluation
The evaluation was conducted in 2007 by a team from West Virginia University Health Sciences Center and was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Staff from the West Virginia Office of Healthy Schools and the Office of Healthy Lifestyles assisted with the evaluation.
Summary of Methods
The evaluation consisted of phone interviews regarding attitudes, behavior and knowledge of the Act and obesity with: 1,500 parents of students in kindergarten and grades two, four, five, seven and nine and 420 students in grades five, seven and nine. Additionally, surveys were conducted of:
- 53 county school superintendents (95% response rate);
- 586 elementary, middle and high school principals (84% response rate);
- 214 school nurses (89% response rate);
- 398 physical education teachers (57% response rate); and
- 124 health care providers (22% response rate).
Additionally, the research team analyzed data collected by the West Virginia Department of Education regarding physical education, fitness assessments and health education assessments.
Year One Findings
- 96 percent of parents believe schools play an important role in addressing the childhood obesity epidemic.
- Many parents incorrectly perceived that an overweight child is normal weight. As in the Arkansas evaluation, parents are unaware of overweight and obesity’s health consequences.
- While 19 percent of children were classified as obese according to their BMI score, less than 1 percent of parents accurately identified their child as obese.
- Best practices for school environments for food and physical activity are not reflected in many county- and school-level policies.
- Improved facilities and staffing are needed for full implementation of the Healthy Lifestyles Act’s mandates.
- 86 percent of children do not eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.
- 73 percent of children do not get the recommended amounts of physical activity.
- Only 27 percent of health care providers report calculating children’s BMI.
Overall, the Year One Evaluation showed there is an increased awareness and strong support of the Healthy Lifestyles Act. More time is needed for full implementation.