Geographic Disparities in State and District Policies Targeting Youth Obesity

In an effort to address the rise in childhood obesity, states and school districts across the United States have enacted policies to curb childhood obesity. Five domains commonly addressed in these policies include: (1) competitive foods; (2) school meals; (3) nutrition education; (4) physical activity; and (5) physical education.

This study examines geographic differences in state and district policies focused on childhood obesity to determine if the strength of the policies differs across Census divisions. Data were examined from a nationally representative sample of 578 public school districts in the 2006-2007 school year, and 592 public school districts in the 2008-2009 school year.

Key Findings:

  • Districts across the nation had strong provisions for less than one-fourth of the policies, on average.
  • School meal, nutrition education and physical activity policies were similar across Census divisions, while competitive foods and physical education policies differed.
  • East South Central and West South Central—the two Census divisions with the highest youth obesity prevalence in 2007—had stronger competitive food policies compared with other divisions.
  • West South Central did not make much progress over from 2006-2007 to 2008-2009 and had the weakest physical education policy.

While districts with high rates of obesity are addressing competitive foods, the other policy areas must also be addressed to decrease childhood obesity prevalence.