Why By State and Not Federal?
It’s also worth noting why we need to address child health & wellness state-by-state, instead of primarily nationally/federally.
The Obama administration’s work on child health and the George W. Bush administration’s work on K-12 academic achievement & testing show the potential, but also the limits and even downside of federal involvement in schools.
On the one hand, the USDA under Obama increased standards for federally-funded school meals. This had a particularly big impact on Title 1 schools, which have many students receiving free and reduced price lunches (FRL) and in many cases federally-subsidized breakfasts, too. The higher standards had a positive impact on health. In the highest poverty schools, where a larger portion of children’s nutrition happens at school, child obesity actually declined.
On the other hand, the voluntary Let’s Move initiative led by Michelle Obama raised awareness of the importance of kids’ physical activity—but failed to halt the decline in the main traditional sources of physical activity at school: recess and physical education.
In fact, a big chunk of that decline can be traced to the growing focus on school accountability and standardized testing to increase academic achievement K-12 in the 1990s. This was turbo-charged in the 2000s by a George W. Bush-era yet bipartisan federal policy push called No Child Left Behind. The resulting increased scrutiny on and standardized testing in reading, writing & math—without an accompanying increase in funding—had the unintended consequence of incentivizing school leaders to slash recess, arts education, and physical & health education—in order to focus instruction time on tested subjects, for which they were held accountable.
The increased seat-time at-school happened, as screens became more ubiquitous in homes-leading to epidemic sedentary behavior among children in both settings. The health implications were disastrous. As Mayo Clinic declared: Sitting was the new smoking. Fast forward two decades: This is now being reflected in widespread teen prediabetes and young & middle-age adult diabetes, as well as earlier-onset cardiovascular conditions and cancer.
During this same timeframe, the political dialogue became increasingly partisan & hostile. Given the filibuster in the Senate, anything with a potential whiff of controversy-which includes almost anything involving K-12 education—is no longer viable to reform at the federal level.
The bottom line? We and other would-be change-makers need to get off our own butts, and outside our national and talk-without-action advocacy comfort zones, to address children’s health—state-by-state.
Healthy Students Healthy States gets us there.