Promoting Healthy Communities and Preventing Childhood Obesity

A report by the National Conference of State Legislatures highlights actions on school nutrition, body mass index and fitness screening, transit-oriented development and local food production and consumption as emerging trends in state policies designed to prevent childhood obesity.

“Promoting Healthy Communities and Preventing Childhood Obesity: Trends in Recent Legislation” analyzes state measures addressing healthy eating, physical activity, healthy community design and access to healthy food. More legislation was considered in each of these categories in 2009 than during the preceding two years, and at least 80 bills were signed into law.

The major trends in 2009 included:

  • School nutrition: Nine states enacted laws to improve school nutrition and nutrition education, compared to 17 states in 2007-2008. The efforts ranged from setting strong nutrition standards for all foods served in schools to increasing participation rates in federal school meal programs and receiving higher federal reimbursement rates.
  • Body mass index and fitness screening: Four states enacted body mass index or physical fitness assessment laws, compared to six in 2007-2008.
  • Transit-oriented development: Ten states enacted laws linking public transit with housing, shopping and other services to enhance walkability, compared to eight in 2007-2008.
  • Local food production and consumption: Eleven states enacted laws designed to strengthen local food systems and production and consumption of locally grown foods, compared to 16 in 2007-2008.

The report points to the availability of federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) as one of the catalysts for action. ARRA contained funding to help schools purchase, renovate or replace equipment to prepare healthy meals and to ensure students and community members have safe spaces for regular physical activity, including sidewalks, trails and bike paths for getting to school.

Support for this report was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of its Leadership for Healthy Communities national program.