In 2003 Arkansas legislators passed Act 1220, a comprehensive and coordinated approach to combating childhood obesity that involves public schools and communities across the state. The present report contains the most recent findings from a three-year evaluation of efforts to implement this law.
- More than half of the reporting schools made changes to their nutrition and/or physical education policies or practices within the past year.
- School districts made considerable changes to vending machine contents and placed restrictions on student access to vending machines, snack bars and snack carts on campus. Fifty-three percent of districts (up from 18% in Year One) disallowed the sale of “junk foods” in school vending machines.
- Most schools appeared not to experience a substantial decline in vending revenues as a result of offering healthier options.
- Changes in school policy and practices related to physical activity were less likely than those related to food and beverages. There were no significant changes in the average length of a physical education class and students were less likely than previously to report participating in a physical education class three or more days a week.
- Although mandated annual body mass index (BMI) screenings for every public school student raised controversy initially, the majority of parents felt comfortable with the measurement and confidential reporting process in the third year. School administrators experienced fewer problems with the process and parents reported an increased awareness of health risks associated with childhood obesity.
Interviews with key informants revealed overwhelming support for continued improvements to nutrition standards. While progress has been significant, further assessment is needed in order to support, refine and measure the impact of efforts in Arkansas. It is possible that school-based intervention alone may not be enough to affect broad-scale changes in eating behaviors and physical activity levels among students and families in Arkansas.