OLR Research Report

August 17, 2004




By: Saul Spigel, Chief Analyst

You asked for a brief update on legislation in other states since 2002 concerning childhood obesity and nutrition.

Legislatures in many states considered numerous bills in 2003 and 2004 dealing with childhood obesity; legislation passed in nine. The new laws dealt with school vending machine sales, nutrition, and physical education.

Arkansas banned elementary school students' access to vending machines. It also created a Child Health Advisory Committee to develop nutrition and physical activity standards and make policy recommendations to the state boards of Education and Health on a la carte food sales in schools cafeterias and foods sold in vending machines, school stores, and fund raisers (Act 1220). Another new law authorizes schools to send home a student health status report card, specifically detailing a child's body mass index (BMI, an obesity measurement) and explaining the health effects of BMI, nutrition, and physical activity (Act 129).

California banned selling soda in elementary, middle, and junior high school vending machines and replaced it with milk, water, and juice. It also limited students' ability to access vending machines during the school day (Ch. 415).

Colorado encouraged each school district board to adopt a policy providing that, by the 2006-07 school year, at least 50% of the items offered in school vending machines meet acceptable nutritional standards and consist of specified foods (Ch.166).

Florida took a global approach to obesity by requiring its Health Department to implement physical activity and nutrition that target all state residents, not just children. Among other activities, the department must promote public awareness of research on healthy lifestyles and chronic disease; provide technical assistance and training to school districts, health departments, health care providers, and community groups that want to promote physical activity and nutrition programs; and work with schools to promote ways to help students spend at least 60 minutes a day in physical activity (Ch.338).

Louisiana mandated at least 30 minutes daily of moderate to vigorous physical exercise for elementary school students, with specially adapted exercise for students with disabilities and chronic health problems. It also established a three-year pilot program to assess students' health-related physical fitness and weight changes in middle and high schools (Act 174).

Oklahoma required each school, by October 1, 2004, to create an advisory committee to address health and wellness issues, including health, nutrition, and physical activity (sb1627).

Tennessee required its State Board of Education, in consultation with the Education and Public Health departments, to establish minimum nutrition standards and portion sizes for individual food items offered for sale to pre-kindergarten through eight grade students through vending machines or school lunch programs (Ch. 708).

Vermont established an advisory council to plan, coordinate, and encourage the development of comprehensive wellness programs in public schools and communities. It requires the education commissioner to develop a model school wellness policy for districts to use that includes guidelines for food and beverages they sell and physical activity policies; prepare nutrition and physical fitness curricula; and encourage districts to collect student-specific data, including BMI and performance on fitness indicators, and make the data public (while protecting individuals' privacy) (Act 161).

Washington required its state school directors association, in consultation with state agencies and other private groups, to develop a model policy concerning access to nutritious foods and opportunity for exercise. The policy must address the nutritional content of food and beverages sold in competition to the federal school lunch and breakfast programs. Each school district must adopt a nutrition and exercise policy by August 2005 (Ch. 138).

A more complete look at recent school vending machine legislation is available in a July 2004 report by the National Council of State Legislatures (