Legislation could increase exercise and restrict diet
Information in this story was compiled from the Washington post article "Student Obesity Targeted," by Christian Davenport.
A Montgomery County delegate has proposed legislation to improve nutritional standards in schools and promote exercise according to the Washington Post.
Del. Joan F. Stern's bills would require school districts to "conduct surveys on student health, expand insurance coverage to include treatment of obesity and create an advisory council on overweight children."
Stern testified that obesity costs Maryland $2.5 billion every year in health care expenses and loss of productivity. Approximately 20 percent of Maryland residents are overweight, beating the national average by two percent. In order to combat the epidemic among young people, Stern suggests revamping school lunch menus. "Let me put it this way: We have schools that could do a much better job in the types of foods they are serving," she said. Afterward, she added, "Ketchup should not be the vegetable of the day," according to the Washington Post.
Should Stern's bill pass, school nutritional standards would be rewritten, banning soda at lunch. Students in Maryland would have to get a mandatory five hours of exercise a week. If the measure to have all students complete a federal health survey is approved, the state would be able to determine who would be eligible for more federal health grants and have better statistics on obesity in Maryland.
Susan Soule, a health education teacher at Blair does not think all of the solutions proposed in the bill will make a significant difference. "The key to reducing the obesity problem is two things," said Soule. "Educating people about what a serving size really is and people have to be willing to exercise." She also believes banning certain popular foods from the lunch menu cannot be an ultimate solution. "You have to offer an alternative," she explained.
Opponents of the bill include some legislators and school officials who said the state government should not tread upon local authorities and school communities. Del. Nancy J. King was unconvinced about the effectiveness of the federal survey. "I can't imagine how you are going to get a straight answer out of these kids on all these questions," she said. The director of governmental relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, John R. Woolums said the measure would only take time away from academics. "We really barely have time for English, language arts, math and the core components," he said according to the Washington Post.
Stern's bill would create an unfunded mandate for schools already facing budget crunches Woolums added. The department of Legislative Services studied the bill and determined the legislation could cost school districts across the state up to $46 million to hire more physical education teachers.
According to the Washington Post, Woolums said, "We already have fairly strict federal regulations and state regulations." Many Montgomery County schools have stopped serving Hawaiian Punch and doughnuts. Also, vending machines in schools are supposed to be turned off during until the last lunch period of each day.
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