Arizonans are getting fat and the state isn’t doing enough to prevent it, according to authors of a national report card that ranked Arizona with 22 other states as failing in efforts to combat obesity.
State and local health officials dispute the research, saying efforts are being made to determine the causes of obesity, boost nutrition and exercise in Arizona schools and workplaces, and educate the public about the dangers of being overweight.
"We are taking obesity seriously in this state, but I know that we are not doing enough," said state Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale, chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee.
Allen provided the Tribune with draft copies of proposals discussed Wednesday by members of her committee and state health officials. Allen said she believes the proposals are the first plans specifically targeting obesity that lay the groundwork for future legislation.
The draft "Childhood Obesity Chronic Care Model" addresses the inactivity and poor diet of Arizona children, proposing community partnerships, obesity education and creation of a statewide registry to track and prevent child obesity.
A proposed "Governor’s Worksite Wellness Challenge" program encourages work sites to promote exercise during lunch hours and replacing unhealthy snacks with nutritional foods in vending machines.
One of the report card’s authors, University of Baltimore professor Zoltan Acs, said the research, which was compiled in January, showed there were no attempts made in the Arizona Legislature to introduce bills specifically addressing obesity.
"According to our research, Arizona has done nothing about the problem," Acs said during a phone interview.
Arizona, Wisconsin and Utah were the only states in this situation, he said. All others had at least proposed bills, and some were in the process of being passed or implemented.
Researchers ranked the states according to eight areas of importance for legislation being proposed. Controlling the types of foods and beverages offered during school hours was the highest priority type of legislation that states could introduce, Acs said.
Others were prohibiting certain types of food sold in vending machines, measuring children’s body mass index equations at school, mandating recess and physical education time for children, establishing obesity education programs, including obesity treatment in health insurance coverage, and creation of research programs and committees in legislatures to study obesity.
Acs said the research could be flawed if states’ legislative Web sites were not kept current. Public policy specialist Ann Cotten, director of the Shaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore, conducted the bulk of the legislative information gathering.
Besides Cotten and Acs, a professor of economics and entrepreneurship with an interest in health and nutrition, the research team included finance professor Kenneth Stanton.
Obesity prevention efforts in Arizona
Although Arizona was given an "F" for their efforts to combat obesity, the state is taking steps to combat the epidemic:
Groundwork proposals for legislation drafted by state health officials include the "Child Obesity Chronic Care Model," proposing obesity education and creation of a statewide child obesity registry, and the "Governor’s Worksite Wellness Challenge," promoting exercise during work lunch hours and replacing unhealthy snacks in vending machines with nutritional choices like apples and granola bars.
Eight Arizona schools are participating in a pilot program that brings more fresh fruits and vegetables, healthier snack foods and beverages into the schools. Teachers in the schools are implementing nutrition and exercise curricula in their classrooms.
Scottsdale Healthcare and LINKS Community Collaborative have formed task forces to find the causes for obesity in Scottsdale and conduct community education and exercise programs.
Albertsons food stores have a nutritionist available to answer nutrition questions and shop with customers.
SOURCES: Arizona Sen. Carolyn Allen, R.-Scottsdale, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Scottsdale Healthcare Community Health Services