RD3 - Childhood Obesity

Executive Summary:
Childhood obesity is in danger of reaching epidemic proportions across the United States. Obesity among adolescents has tripled since 1980, with much of this growth occurring in the last ten years. The increase stems from the poor eating habits of youth in the U.S., combined with the increasing amount of time that young people spend in sedentary activities such as television and video games.

This problem has severe implications for the health and well-being of children and youth living in Virginia. Obesity and overweight create an enhanced risk for serious health problems that manifest themselves both in childhood and later in life. In addition, the social stigma associated with overweight can be particularly debilitating for adolescents. They are more likely to face discrimination and teasing from peers and consequently have greater vulnerability for psychological problems stemming from low self-esteem and depression.

This report addresses the problem of obesity among children and adolescents in Virginia. It discusses research both at the state and national levels regarding the prevalence, causes, and consequences of childhood obesity. It provides information about the role of parents and schools in improving the eating habits and physical activity of children in Virginia and suggests ways that these parties can take action to improve the health and nutrition of Virginia’s youth.

Of the initiatives identified in the Commonwealth, one of the most promising is the Virginia Action for Healthy Kids, which works to improve the health and educational performance of children through better nutrition and physical activity in schools. This statewide initiative, operating under the aegis of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, involves numerous state agencies and private organizations, including the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Department of Education, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Virginia School Food Service Association, and the Virginia Dietetic Association.

The Commission on Youth, at its September 3, 2003 meeting, unanimously approved a study recommendation which reads as follows:

Virginia Action for Healthy Kids, at the direction of Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, is requested to report to the Commission on Youth on the most effective and cost-efficient ways to prevent greater proliferation of overweight and obesity among the youth in Virginia by November 17, 2003.

As requested, the Virginia Action for Health Kids presented several recommendations at the Commission’s November meeting. The following recommendations were approved by the Commission.


Request the Department of Education to report on the feasibility of implementing the recommendations of the Virginia Action for Healthy Kids’ approved by the Commission on Youth at its November 17, 2003 meeting as part of its study of Childhood Obesity in Virginia. The Department of Education will report to the Commission on Youth prior to the 2005 General Assembly Session.

a. Revise the Board of Education’s regulations as approved by the Board of Health for health and physical education in public school curriculum, to be in compliance with Section 22.1-207 to:

• Require K-10 instruction in health and physical education to be delivered by a qualified, endorsed health and physical education teacher;

• Require annual fitness report cards for each student, including information on abdominal and upper body strength, aerobic activity, flexibility, and height and weight and body mass index-for-age calculations, to be sent home to parents during standard testing times (fall, spring); and

• Require Standards of Learning testing for elementary, middle, and high school students by July 1, 2007.

b. Establish a team to investigate the feasibility of implementing agricultural programs in schools, within the current Standards of Learning framework, such as the USDA-funded Farm-to-School program and school gardening programs.

c. Modify the Standards of Accreditation to require a minimum of 30 minutes of daily recess during the regular school year for elementary school students, not to include physical education requirements. Recess is not to be taken away for remediation or disciplinary action.

d. Modify the Standards of Accreditation to require health and physical education instruction in 8th grade.

e. Require schools to provide at least 20 minutes to eat lunch, once seated, and schedule lunch periods at reasonable hours around midday (11:00–1:00).

f. Require that every newly built elementary school have space for recess and recreation.