Mississippi Department of Education
United States of America

In the last thirty years, a new epidemic has reared its head in the world, sweeping across all nations with deadly efficiency and affecting the lives of more than 2 billion people. According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control, in 2012 nearly thirty percent of the world’s population was overweight or obese. These numbers are not changing for the better. The United States tops the list of nations having the largest percentage of obese people. The more disturbing fact, however, is that the number of overweight or obese adolescents nearly quadrupled in those thirty years.

Not that long ago, a typical summer for adolescents consisted of running around and playing outside all day. Some kids went to camps that provided ample exercise, or even camps specifically for sports. While many children today still frequently play outside, attend sports camps, and participate in other physical activities, they are more often than not pre-occupied with some sort of electronic device. A sedentary lifestyle in front of a screen has replaced chasing friends around the block. Days of playing soldiers in the woods have been forgotten in favor of playing soldiers on a television screen.

It isn't just the form of activity that has changed; the foods that our children are eating have also been supplanted with less healthy fare. In addition to physical activity, it is important to provide nutritional food to the young generation, rather than constant fast food stops. To curb the spread of this deadly epidemic, proper nutritional education must start at an early age and continue through adolescence into young adulthood. By teaching our children healthy lifestyle habits such as healthy eating and physical activity, we can greatly reduce the risk of our young becoming obese and developing life threatening diseases.

While obesity is a worldwide epidemic, it is hitting especially hard in the United States. It seems that no place is safe and each area is affected differently. Even across the US the effects and the severity vary. When it comes to severity, no place in the US is affected more than Mississippi. Here are just a few facts as to how this state is being affected:
• The State of Mississippi ranks number 1 amongst all states, having the highest child obesity rate of 21.7% for children 10 – 17 years old.
• Obesity-related health issues, such as diabetes and hypertension among adults in Mississippi are alarmingly high, ranking at number 2 of all states.
• Obesity-related heart disease cases in Mississippi are expected to increase nearly seven-fold in the next fifteen years.
• Obesity-related cancer cases in Mississippi are expected to increase by 300% in the next fifteen years.

Given this information, it might cause one to wonder what in particular is causing Mississippi to be hit so much harder by obesity than other states. Our research found many different potential causes, but one that stood out was that Mississippi does not take full advantage of United States Public Policies that are available to control childhood obesity, such as:

1. Mississippi only takes advantage of 3 out of 6 available Foods and Beverages Public Policies.

2. Mississippi does not take advantage of the Physical Activity Requirements Public Policy, which sets standards for the type of physical activity and the time students participate in such activities throughout the school day beyond normal physical education class.

3. Mississippi does not take advantage of the available Health Assessments and Screening Public Policy, which under law requires BMI screening and other weight-related assessments in schools.

4. Mississippi does not take advantage of State Grant Programs offered by the Centers for Disease Control, such as Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity Grants.
If prevention is not provided at an early age, the health-related consequences can be devastating. Children must be educated about the dangers of obesity, and programs that promote healthy eating and regular physical activity must be universally instituted throughout the state.

We the people hereby petition the Mississippi Department of Education to take advantage of the following available United States public policies within Mississippi public schools. By instating these policies not only will the spread of this obesity epidemic be curbed, our children will also be encouraged and educated in effective ways to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Foods and Beverages:
Place limits on competitive foods in schools. The Food Research and Action Center defines competitive foods as those foods and beverages available or sold outside of the federally-reimbursed school meals programs, often in à la carte lines, snack bars, student stores, vending machines, or through fundraisers, classroom parties, or student rewards. As required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids act of 2010, the USDA issued new nutritional standards known as Smart Snacks in School. This program provides limits on the amount of calories, salt, fats, sugars, etc. that the children should consume while promoting healthy snacks and encouraging the children to eat more fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy, and whole grains. While Mississippi participates in the program, no limits have been placed on competitive foods in schools at this point in time.

Increase the availability of water in schools. For many decades, most schools have had water fountains, but most schools do not have an adequate number for all of the students. Furthermore, students are limited in the times that they may use these fountains and often do not have the opportunity to support proper hydration. We propose that schools implement a water bottle policy for the students, which would allow them to have water available to all times. Not only is water vital to a proper diet, it is also important to stay hydrated during physical activity, which brings us to the next part of our proposal.

Physical Activity:
Implement daily physical activity programs. 12 states in the US require a certain amount of physical activity be provided to the students throughout the day, in addition to the Physical Education classes. Studies show that adolescents need to have at least 1 hour of physical activity per day. Encouraging young people to participate in enjoyable physical activities for it is important not only in promoting a healthy lifestyle, but also aids in their learning. Studies show that children perform significantly better in concentration based tests after participating in physical activity.

Physical Activity Requirements Not taken advantage of:
o Aside from students' Physical Education Classes, there are twelve states in the U.S. that require a certain amount of time of physical activity to be provided to the students throughout the day.
o Adolescents need to have 1 hour or more physical activity daily.
o Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.
o As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity at least 3 days per week.
o As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity at least 3 days per week.
o It is important to encourage young people to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety.

Health Assessments and Education in Schools:
Begin health screening and BMI assessments in schools. During the screenings BMI can be calculated with a simple formula requiring only the student's height and weight. Although BMI screenings cannot accurately diagnose a child as obese as they are still in the process of growing, they can provide detailed information on whether or not a child is headed that way. Based on this information more tests can be performed during a doctor visit. In countering this health crisis, prevention is just as valuable as the cure, if not more so.

CDC State Grant Programs:
Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity Grants – Not taken advantage of.
REACH Grants – Not taken advantage of.

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The Fight Obesity in Mississippi Public Schools petition to Mississippi Department of Education was written by Brian Albrecht and is in the category Health at GoPetition.