Evaluation: Arkansas Act 1220 of 2003 to Combat Childhood Obesity

The Program Being Evaluated

Obesity is recognized as one of the most pressing health threats faced by families and communities in Arkansas and in the nation overall. Today, nearly one-third of U.S. children and adolescents—about 23 million youths—are obese or overweight. Though the alarming rates of increase among some children and youths appear to have slowed or stabilized, both nationally and in Arkansas, these rates continue to rise among teens and many racial and ethnic populations. The serious health and economic implications associated with obesity are stimulating federal and state legislative changes to address the epidemic.

The purpose of this project was to take advantage of the timing of legislative initiatives in Arkansas and California to evaluate the effectiveness of school-based initiatives in reducing childhood obesity. The Arkansas law, in particular, was the most comprehensive and allowed a careful assessment of the processes and changes that occurred as school policies were implemented.

About the Evaluation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded an evaluation—beginning in 2004 and continuing through 2012—of the process and impact of Act 1220 of 2003’s implementation. A research team in the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas conducted the evaluation which included surveys of parents, students and school administrators annually; case studies of school districts; and linkages of each school district’s implementation to relevant BMI data, all in effort to identify the key elements of policy that contribute to prevention of childhood obesity.

Knowledge and Impact

With the passage of Act 1220 of 2003 and the subsequent work by schools and communities, Arkansas became a national leader in addressing childhood obesity through a comprehensive school-based intervention. The Act mandated a limited number of immediate statewide policy changes and also established mechanisms to help create future changes at both the state and local levels. The ultimate objective of the legislation is to improve the health of Arkansas children and their families.

Lessons Learned

“This (evaluation) has gotten a lot of national attention. The academic community is very aware of a lot going on in Arkansas. There has been lots of national press and attention. This is an unusual evaluation of statewide policy. Very few policy evaluations go on for nine years.”—Act 1220 Evaluation Project Director Raczynski

"One of the major impacts of Act 1220 was the actual measured BMI surveillance data in the first year or so. That raised the awareness both inside the state and nationally that the burden of childhood obesity was so much greater than we ever thought it was. People thought it was around 17 to 20 percent. When we came out and said we’ve measured it and it’s 38 percent, people stood up and took a look. It really raised the level of discussion and the urgency of the discussion nationally.” —Act 1220 Evaluation Project Co-Director Phillips

Conclusion

The findings suggest that Arkansas Act 1220 of 2003 simulated important changes in Arkansas schools and in the ways that Arkansas families, school personnel and policymakers thought about childhood obesity and its associated risks.

Please refer to the full report for a full list and explanation of the evaluation and all lessons learned.