Mississippi — the most obese state in America — saw its childhood obesity rate reduced by more than 13 percent between 2006 and 2011, according to a new collaborative study by three Mississippi universities. Researchers attribute that decline to a recent overhaul of the state’s school nutrition and health education programs.
In 2007, Mississippi passed the Healthy Students Act in response to the Hospitality State’s epidemic levels of childhood and adult obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The law fosters nutritional improvements in school lunches, expands health education and PE programs, and even facilitates community health councils to communicate with parents about the importance of good diets and exercise.
As the study authors note, many school districts tried earnestly to comply with the law — and although the majority of districts were unable to implement all of its measures due to funding gaps, 75 percent of Mississippi students now undergo nutrition education and PE. Schools are also serving more whole grains and fruits while parting with their deep fryers and high-fat milk, leading the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to commend their Mississippi’s school nutrition efforts in 2009.
Locales that implement aggressive nutritional policies tend to see a drop in childhood obesity — and Mississippi is no exception. The recent efforts have reduced the state’s childhood obesity rate from 43 percent in 2005, before the law’s passage, to 37.3 percent in 2011. That’s also good news for government health entitlements and national medical spending, which tend to balloon alongside Americans’ waistlines, since obesity becomes more difficult to overcome later on in life as unhealthy habits become entrenched.
Not all students have been benefiting equally from the changes, however. Black children, who have a higher obesity rate than the general population, have not seen the same gains as kids from other races. That’s likely due to socioeconomic factors that plague Mississippi’s black community, including inadequate access to affordable and healthy food options in low-income communities.
American school children may continue to benefit from better school food and health programs as the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) implements the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Under recently-released rules under that law, public schools will have to begin swapping out unhealthy foods in vending machines and snack bars with healthier alternatives beginning in the 2014–2015 academic year.