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Study: Texas' $37 Million Program to Curb Childhood Obesity Has Little Effect

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
A Texas program meant to curb childhood obesity did not achieve desired results. Schools focused more on the exercise portion of the program, less on the nutritional.

A $37 million program to reduce childhood obesity in Texas didn’t actually achieve any of its desired results, according to a new study from the University of Texas

The Texas Fitness Now program gave grants to the state’s poorest middle schools from 2007 to 2011, when the program ended due to budget cuts.

The report found that middle school obesity rates statewide remained the same regardless of whether a school received a grant or not. Paul von Hippel co-wrote the report. He says most of the schools spent the money on sports and fitness equipment, which improved their fitness levels.

“Students could do more pushups, more trunk lifts and could run a faster shuttle run, but they weren’t any thinner," von Hippel says.

He says there is little evidence that shows more physical education reduces childhood obesity without some kind of nutritional component, too. Twenty-five percent of these grants were supposed to focus on nutrition, but von Hippel says his study found that wasn't enforced.

“The program was administered by physical education teachers and athletic directors and such. There wasn’t a heavy involvement by nutritionists," von Hippel says.

In the program's third year, just seven percent of grant proposals included a nutritional component.

But von Hippel says it’s harder to change nutrition policies in schools than it is to promote more exercise.

“When you start to address nutrition, you run into vested interests in the food industry," von Hippel says. "Looking at physical education is always politically and economically an easier choice to make. And you see governments making that choice over and over again. It’s not just Texas.”

The program was also supposed to improve students' academic performance. But the report found if there was any academic improvement, it was only among middle schoolers who spent two to three years in schools that received grants. 

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