Childhood obesity bill passes Senate

Larisa Robinson

Capital News Service

Two legislators – Delegate John O’Bannon, R-Henrico, and Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk – are working to address childhood obesity by requiring more physical activity at school.

Senate Bill 966, proposed by Northam, would require at least 150 minutes of physical education weekly during the regular school year in kindergarten through eighth grade, with a similar goal for high school students, beginning with the 2014 -2015 school year.

The measure has passed the Senate, 37-2.

O’Bannon has proposed identical legislation, House Bill 1644. The House approved the bill last week on a 65-31 vote.

O’Bannon said he hopes his bill will positively affect his three grandchildren and other children in Virginia.

“We can’t afford to wait any longer,” he said. “It’s something we have to do for the health of our country and the youth of our nation.”

More than 15 percent of Virginia’s children are obese, according “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010,” a study by the Trust for America’s Health.

The study said Virginia could do more to fight obesity, such as setting nutritional standards for school meals that are stricter than the federal rules. 20 other states and Washington, D.C., have done just that.

Also, unlike other states, Virginia does not collect body mass index data for children and adolescents or require other forms of weight-related assessments in schools.

Northam, a pediatrician, said childhood obesity doesn’t just affect children.

“As a state senator, I feel that I have an obligation to my constituents and taxpayers to help combat childhood obesity so that all of us can avoid paying more in taxes and health insurance premiums to treat preventable conditions down the road,” he said.

During last year’s General Assembly session, for instance, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester, helped pass SB 414. Under that law, the Virginia Board of Education and Department of Health must update regulations setting nutritional guidelines for all competitive foods sold to students during regular school hours.

Some people are skeptical about the effectiveness of laws aimed at fighting obesity. They include Robert Davis, a professor of health and human performance in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“As a physical education instructor, I’m happy to see this kind of legislation pushed,” Davis said. “I’m not confident that anything will come out of it.”

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