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Schools already fighting obesity epidemic
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Even if a scaled down version of an anti-obesity bill originally requiring schools to weigh students for their body mass index passes through the General Assembly, it will not have much affect on at least one local school.
"The new bill does not really affect me much because we already do some form of this testing," Lyman Hall Elementary physical education teacher Kevin VanHouten said on Tuesday.
The original Student Health and Physical Education bill passed the Georgia Senate in February but raised questions in the House. Legislators considered how requiring bi-annual weigh-ins of children, averaging six to 12-years-old, might be received from parents. The House committee amended the SHAPE bill by taking out the BMI testing and only requiring students to perform a fitness test. Georgia elementary schools would still be required to meet the minimum standard of 90 minutes of physical activity per year.
The Georgia House committee favorably reported on the bill on Monday but has postponed vote until today, the final day of the 2008 session.
VanHouten explained Lyman Hall would have been in line with the original version of the bill. He said he already weighs students in the fall and spring, to show them how their physical fitness is improving. And BMI testing is conducted in a confidential setting, computing student's height and weight in computer software.
VanHouten said obese students sometimes discuss their weight with him, looking for ways to become healthy. He said many "have the determination to become fit."
"I believe some kids do not like what they see in the mirror," VanHouten said. "The only way to help that is to educate and motivate them."
But he sees the issue going beyond schools, requiring a "change in our society and our views of this epidemic."
"We, as a society, are going to pay the price for these students' obesity. As the students get older, health care premiums, diabetes, heart disease will continue to climb," VanHouten said.
While the revamped bill would have only affected K-5 students, Lewis Frasier Middle School PE teacher Ray Ginn believes other factors contribute to obesity, factors that neither the school, nor law can control.
"If you are talking about required BMI, then we need to identify those considered obese and place them on a breakfast and lunch menu to help," he said. "We would have to get the parents involved on how to eat, which crosses culture lines too."  
VanHouten also thinks it would take more involvement to combat childhood obesity.
"It will take time, but the teachers in our county are able and willing," VanHouten said.
Elementary students currently have physical education twice a week for 45 minutes. Middle school students have the class on rotation, based on scheduling. High school students are required to have one physical education credit, which is usually completed during freshman year.
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