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Eat Smart Move More South Carolina at the Statehouse

GailKinard2009_200By Gail R. Kinard
Palmetto Public Affairs

Addressing our children’s school environment is a critical component in combating childhood obesity.  Children spend about 7 hours a day in school and, since these are formative years, providing a healthier school environment can enable children to learn to make healthier choices that will last a lifetime.  Healthy children learn better and grow up to be healthier adults.

In several studies released last year, decreases in obesity were seen in some cities that made a concerted effort to focus on making changes in their school environment.  The common theme among these communities was their attention to increasing the quality and quantity of physical activity for students and the implementation of stronger nutritional guidelines for school food.

This year the Healthy Students Act was introduced in the South Carolina General Assembly by Senator Katrina Shealy.  This legislation focuses on three areas that can impact a healthier school environment, and, hopefully, begin to reverse the childhood obesity trends in our state.

The first component of the bill states that students in middle and high schools will receive a minimum number of minutes for physical activity incorporated into their classroom instructional day. Physical activity requirements are already in place for elementary school students through the Students Health and Fitness Act.  Research shows physically active students are more attentive in class, score better on tests and have less referrals and suspensions.

The second component of the bill provides for a uniform collection of statewide childhood obesity statistics.  These statistics will enable policy makers to have a baseline in order to determine if policies and strategies are providing better outcomes and are essential to effective public health planning.

The third component will ensure all school food service meals, snacks and a la carte foods in K-12 are in compliance with the latest federal standards.  New guidelines for school meals were implemented this past school year, and the new food guidelines for snacks and a la carte foods will be released soon.  These guidelines will set a minimum standard, and school districts are free to set more restrictive policies if they so choose.

We hope you will follow the progress of this legislation when the General Assembly returns in January.  We need your active engagement in advocacy in order to ensure this bill becomes law.  In the fall, we will provide further details on how your participation can make a difference in the outcome of this legislation.