Favor of South Carolina's Children
S.C. Rep. Bobby Harrell, Chairman, House Ways & Means Committee
Obesity is an epidemic in the United States . The obesity rate in this nation rose 90 percent from 1990-2002. South Carolina is certainly not immune.
In fact, three out of every five adults in our state are either obese or overweight. That's 5 percent higher than the national average, making South Carolina the 42nd worst state in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Many of us in the General Assembly recognize these facts and realize that we simply must do something to curb this epidemic. That's why we are introducing new legislation called the “Students Health and Fitness Act of 2005.” The bill tips the scales in the favor of South Carolina 's youth with a renewed focus on physical education and well-rounded nutrition in our state's elementary schools. It is co-sponsored by the leadership of the House of Representatives in both political parties.
Passing this bill is important because the problem of obesity often starts at an early age. Twenty-six percent of our low-income children age two to five are overweight, and studies show that about 50 percent of obese children will become obese adults.
A combination of insufficient exercise and poor nutrition is to blame. More than half of South Carolinians either don't get enough physical activity or are totally inactive. And, only 2 percent of school-age children meet the recommended minimum number of servings for all five food groups on the classic food pyramid.
According to the National Alliance of Nutrition and Activity, 25 percent of children ages five to ten have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other early warning signs of heart disease. It's not just quality of life at stake – it is life itself.
Moreover, research by the National Institute of Health shows that inactivity has major implications on a child's academic performance. Less active children tend to score lower on both reading and math standardized tests at the beginning of kindergarten, and their lower scores track into first grade and throughout their educational experience.
One of the most alarming statistics is the CDC's report that for the first time in over 100 years the current generation of people will have a lesser life span than the previous generation due to a sedentary lifestyle. Perhaps epidemic is an understatement.
Let's face it. Obesity does not happen overnight, and we cannot conquer it overnight. But we can take some immediate steps toward reversing this serious health risk that will bear fruit in both the long and short-term. For example, fitness experts say walking briskly 30 minutes a day could prevent 30 percent of obesity and 45 percent of Type II diabetes cases. Even a 5 percent loss of body weight is associated with health benefits like improved blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
During the first year of this phase-in legislation all K-5 students will participate in a minimum of 75 minutes per week of instructional physical education by a certified physical education specialist. In the following years PE would increase to 120 minutes weekly for year two and to 150 minutes weekly by year three. Schools will designate a physical activity director to develop exercise programs, after school plans and other activities that promote a healthy lifestyle. In addition, schools will undergo assessments to determine the degree to which students in K-12 schools meet the state physical education standards.
The Students Health and Fitness Act of 2005 also addresses vending machines in K-5 public spaces. Under this bill, schools may not provide Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value any time during the school day. That means no candy and soda. Beverage vending machines would still be allowed to sell products that contain 100 percent fruit juice or bottled water, and food vending machines would only be allowed to sell products that meet state and USDA guidelines as a healthy snack.
The Students Health and Fitness Act of 2005 also gives children more choices from the school's cafeteria in order to encourage them to eat school meals. Menu-review panels and online recipe reviewing encourages parent and student participation. Low-fat meal options, more fruit and vegetable choices, whole-grain food offerings, portion control and nutritional information on meals are also an integral part of this bill. Finally, school districts and individual schools will put in place Health Advisory Councils, and increased Nutrition Education will be mandatory for students in grades K-5.
The total fiscal impact of this bill is a little over $35 million a year when fully implemented, but that cost pales in comparison to our taxpayers' cost of obesity-attributable medical expenditures in SC. In 2003, that was more than $1.1 billion, which includes as a part of that figure, $285 million in Medicaid funds and $242 million in Medicare funds, all paid by taxpayers. All in all, a Kenneth Thorp Emory University study reveals that more than a quarter of growth in health care spending over the past 15 years is attributable to obesity.
The Students Health and Fitness Act of 2005 can combat obesity, reduce costs – and ultimately help save lives. That's why dozens of states are introducing similar legislation that would examine or adjust physical education requirements in schools, nutritional content of school meals, and vending machine sales. Our children simply must learn how to eat right and be fit. We all want our children to live long, happy lives. This is one important step to try to make sure they do.