Obesity: Required phys ed good first step

Published 11:17 pm Saturday, April 21, 2007

While Mississippians may take little solace in leading the nation in obesity, at least the Legislature this session took a good step toward healthier lifestyles.

Obesity: Required phys ed good first stepThe Mississippi Healthy Students Act — Senate Bill 2369 — signed into law by Gov. Haley Barbour, requires 150 minutes of exertion per week in schools’ physical education classes. It also requires schools to “adopt a school wellness plan” for children and staff.

Other portions of the bill — such as debate over whether trans fats or French fries should be included in school lunches — dominated debate.

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One controversial section was the provision authorizing the Medicaid program to study if it’s financially feasible to spend tax dollars on surgeries to limit caloric intake for some obese patients.

But overall, the bill honestly takes a stab at the question: Why are we so fat? It addresses diet, exercise, lifestyle. And it offers ways to find solutions.

Shane McNeill, director of the state Department of Education’s Office of Coordinated School Health, is taking a proactive approach for districts. The state is developing an approved list of curricula for schools, as well as downloadable lesson plans for its Web site (http://www.mde.k12.ms.us/).

In grading health, the nation as a whole is progressing, while Mississippi seems to be getting worse.

Why? Most rankings consider infant mortality, tobacco use and obesity as factors. And:

— Barbour blocked increasing the tobacco tax to discourage smoking, and has sued to dismantle the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi which helps keep kids from starting.

— The state Health Department is in shambles — but will be reorganized by law starting July 1.

— Now, the state has a mandatory phys ed program for the public schools.

From the bottom, we can certainly see the way up.