November 2008

Grant Results

SUMMARY

Researchers at the St. Louis University School of Public Health conducted an analysis of childhood obesity legislation introduced in all states between 2003 and 2005. They analyzed factors related to the legislation and characteristics of states where the legislation was introduced that might influence whether such legislation passed.

Key Findings

  • Between 2003 and 2005, state legislatures adopted 17 percent of 717 bills and 53 percent of 134 resolutions related to childhood obesity.
  • Bill-level factors played a much greater role in the success of obesity-related legislation than did state-level factors.
  • Among the factors predicting successful adoption of obesity-related legislation were:
    • Topic area (those with higher rates of adoption had a community- and school-based focus, such as walking and biking paths, farmers' markets, safe walking and biking routes to school and model school policies).
    • Having bipartisan sponsorship and multiple sponsors.
    • Being part of a budget proposal.

The researchers concluded that these modifiable factors offered lawmakers and advocates options for designing legislation that would have an improved chance of enactment.

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided $61,853 in a grant to the St. Louis University School of Public Health from August 15, 2005 to April 30, 2007 for this project.

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THE PROBLEM

In response to the rise in childhood obesity during the early years of the millennium, legislatures in most states introduced legislation or regulations aimed at reducing childhood obesity by promoting healthier eating and more physical activity.

Before this research project, few systematic efforts had tracked the fate of such legislation, so little was known about the factors influencing success or failure of childhood obesity-related legislation at the state level.

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THE PROJECT

Public health researchers at St. Louis University School of Public Health conducted a review of legislation related to childhood obesity introduced in all 50 states between 2003 and 2005. They analyzed factors related to the legislation and characteristics of states where the legislation was introduced that might influence whether such legislation passed.

The researchers examined both bills and resolutions. A bill is a proposed new law or amendment to an existing law that is presented to the legislature for consideration. Bills may appropriate money, prescribe fees, repeal an existing law or take other action. A resolution is a formal expression of the will, opinion or direction of one or both chambers of the legislature on a matter of public interest and does not have the force of a law.

They looked at procedures (for example, chamber of origin), composition (for example, a law, a budget proposal or a tax) and topics (for example, model school policies or farmers' markets) related to legislation.

They also examined sociodemographic, political, economic and industrial characteristics of states.

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FINDINGS

The researchers published their findings in two articles: "Patterns of Childhood Obesity Prevention Legislation in the United States" (Boehmer, Brownson et al., Preventing Chronic Disease, 2007) and "Preventing Childhood Obesity through State Policy: Predictors of Bill Enactment" (Boehmer, Luke et al., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2008). A third article is forthcoming (Dodson et al.) in the American Journal of Public Health. See the Bibliography for citations.

The findings in these papers overlapped. Key findings included:

  • Between 2003 and 2005, 717 bills and 134 resolutions related to childhood obesity were introduced in all 50 states. Of these, 17 percent of bills were enacted (123) and 53 percent of resolutions were adopted (71).
  • The most common topics of legislation were:
    • School nutrition standards and vending machine restrictions.
    • Physical education in schools.
    • Creation of and/or support for studies, councils and task forces to address childhood obesity.
  • The topic areas in which bills were most likely to be adopted were community- and school-based and included:
    • Walking and biking paths.
    • Farmers' markets.
    • Model school policies.
    • Safe routes to school.
    • Statewide initiatives to raise public awareness of the prevalence of obesity and the need to reduce it.
  • No bills concerning snack and soda taxes or menu and product labeling were enacted.
  • Other bill-level factors that positively influenced the likelihood of legislation's adoption were:
    • Having more than one sponsor.
    • Bipartisan sponsorship.
    • Introduction in the Senate rather than House of Representatives.
    • Being part of a budget proposal, rather than being a new law or generating revenue through taxes, fines or fees.
  • The state-level factors that influenced an obesity-related bill's success were:
    • A two-year legislative session.
    • Democratic control of both chambers.

The researchers noted that most bill-level factors were modifiable and therefore offered policy-makers and advocacy groups opportunities to improve chances that proposed legislation might be enacted.

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AFTER THE GRANT

The grantees planned to follow obesity-related legislation after this analysis cut off in 2005, especially because much legislation was introduced after that point. The Physical Activity Policy Research Network, a component of the Prevention Research Center at St. Louis University School of Public Health, has conducted a study to examine a variety of types of legislation to prevent childhood obesity (e.g., physical activity legislation).

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Analysis of Patterns and Policy-Related Correlates of State Obesity Legislation

Grantee

St. Louis University School of Public Health (St. Louis,  MO)

  • Amount: $ 61,853
    Dates: August 2005 to April 2007
    ID#:  053630

Contact

Ross Brownson, Ph.D.
(314) 362-9641
rbrownson@wustl.edu

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Articles

Boehmer TK, Luke DA, Haire-Joshu DL, Bates HS and Brownson RC. "Preventing Childhood Obesity Through State Policy. Predictors of Bill Enactment." American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 34(4): 333–340, 2008. Abstract available online.

Boehmer TK, Brownson RC, Haire-Joshu D and Dreisinger ML. "Patterns of Childhood Obesity Prevention Legislation in the United States." Preventing Chronic Disease, 4(3): 2007. Available online.

Dodson EA, Fleming C, Boehmer TK, Haire-Joshu D, Luke DA and Brownson RC. "Preventing Childhood Obesity Through State Policy: Qualitative Assessment of Enablers and Barriers." Journal of Public Health Policy. In press.

Presentations and Testimony

Elizabeth Dodson, Chris Fleming, Tegan Boehmer, Debra Haire-Joshu, Doug Luke, Ross Brownson and Tracy Orleans. "What Factors Affect the Passage of State Legislation to Prevent Childhood Obesity?" Active Living Research Conference, Washington, April 2008. PowerPoint® presentation available online.

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Report prepared by: Gina Shaw
Reviewed by: Janet Heroux
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: C. Tracy  Orleans

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