Rachael Ray teaches healthy eating to 3rd graders (AP/Evan Vucci)
On Thursday, lawmakers approved a watered-down version of a bill proposing to tackle the rising obesity rates among children. This compromise bill, while lacking the teeth that the older version had, may help forestall the growing epidemic of overweight and obese children.
The bill provides for weight and BMI screenings for children attending Ohio schools and requires P.E. teachers in the state to be licensed in that field beginning in 2013. Perhaps most important among the measures passed, this bill places strict nutritional guidelines for meals provided by the school and for foods in school vending machines. The availability of foods with high calorie counts and low nutritional quality is certainly a major component of the obesity epidemic in Columbus, in Ohio, and around the country.
One of the key failures for the bill's supporters came from the removal of the requirement that schools provide students with at least 30 minutes of rigorous physical activity each day. This requirement was bitterly opposed by school districts, claiming they could not afford such an unfunded mandate. An initial compromise, allowing schools to request a waiver releasing them from this requirement failed to win enough support. In the end, the bill was passed with a voluntary pilot program allowing school's to opt-in to providing this exercise. The need for this political compromise is understandable, but unfortunate. While students may be forced to wait until the end of the school day to have a Twinkie, it is unlikely that those students who most need the help will suddenly be opting to get the exercise they neglect to get now.