State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, has introduced a bill to help prevent childhood obesity by encouraging healthy eating and physical activity in child-care and after-school programs.
Senate Bill 464, the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Act, proposes standards for physical activity, “screen time,” and the serving of fruits and vegetables for certain licensed infant care and early childhood education programs, and after-school programs.
“Childhood obesity is a challenge we should be tackling on a number of fronts,” Jackson said. “This bill will help ensure that after school and child care programs are working in partnership with parents to make their children’s health a top priority. Good eating and exercise habits, when developed early, can add to the long-term quality of life and reduce the costs of health care later on.”
The bill would prohibit television or computer “screen time” in early childhood education programs for children under 2 years of age. For children 2 to 5 years old, it limits it to no more than 60 minutes a day for full-day programs. It also requires fruits and vegetables at every meal; prohibits fried foods; permits low-fat or non-fat milk or 100 percent fruit juice, but no beverages with added sugars.
For after-school programs, SB 464 also would require an hour of physical activity, preferably outside, for full-day schedules. It also would prohibit television or movies and limits time spent with digital devices to one hour per day, and only if used in connection with homework or a planned activity.
The bill would apply to child-care and after-school programs that receive state and federal funding under the California Department of Education, including programs funded through Proposition 49, the After School Education and Safety Program Act of 2002. It could affect as many as 450,000 students in after school programs and as many as 270,000 children in child-care programs.
The bill would not apply to programs overseen by the Department of Social Services, nor to home child care or private child-care providers.
“This is an extremely important proposal that will assist California’s children in becoming healthy and staying healthy,” said Cathy Barankin, public policy director for the California State Alliance of YMCAs, the sponsor and a supporter of the bill.
Despite a slight drop in recent years, California’s childhood obesity rate remains dangerously high. Thirty-eight percent of children statewide were obese or overweight last year. Obese children are at an increased risk of becoming obese adults and developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, depression and cancer.
The standards recommended in the bill are based on research and the Institute of Medicine’s Early Childhood Obesity Prevention policies and the National Afterschool Association’s standards.
— Lisa Gardiner is the communications director for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.