Research Kevin Gee

Can School-Based Policies Reduce Obesity among Adolescents? A Study of a Policy in Arkansas Looks for Answers

November 2013

An expert on the link between children’s health and educational outcomes, Kevin Gee, assistant professor in the UC Davis School of Education, is presenting his research on the impact of a policy in Arkansas aimed at reducing teenage obesity at the Fall 2013 conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management on November 7.

Gee’s study investigated whether a statewide policy intervention to address obesity via schools that was implemented in Arkansas in 2003, known as Act 1220, had an impact on obesity rates among students. Key provisions of Act 1220 required public schools to prohibit vending machines as well as conduct annual body mass index (BMI) screenings for all students. In addition, all parents were notified of their children’s BMI status.

“Though numerous states across the U.S. have enacted legislation requiring public schools to undertake multi-pronged interventions to address obesity, the evidence of their efficacy has been correlational, rather than causal,” said Gee. “The resources applied to this effort, such as reducing junk food and increasing physical activity, have been scarce, so it is critical for us to determine whether the implementation of such policies have achieved their intended impact.”

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, Gee compares changes over time in obesity rates of 9th-12th graders in Arkansas’ public schools to changes in obesity rates of 9th-12th graders in surrounding southern states.

Gee’s preliminary findings show no significant impact of either Act 1220 as a whole or its BMI screening and parental notification requirements on rates of adolescent obesity.

“My study finds a critical void in our understanding of the efficacy of school-based policies to address obesity and extends our knowledge of whether the enormous potential that public schools have to help solve this growing problem among youth can actually be realized,” said Gee.

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