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A Republican legislator from Northern Kentucky is proposing several bills that she says would improve children's health, defending herself from criticism by conservative bloggers who say she would extend government's boundaries too far, and picking up support from a conservative newspaper columnist.
Rep. Addia Wuchner of Florence, a registered nurse and former hospital administrator, wants to require 30 minutes of exercise a day in elementary schools by 2013 and have entrance forms for kindergarten and sixth-grade students include the students' body mass index, roughly a measurement of weight-to-height ratio.
Other proposals in what Wuchner calls her Kentucky Kids First package would form a childhood obesity task force and require the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to create nutritional and physical activity guidelines for licensed child care centers.
"This is about our workforce, this is about [our children's] future," she said. "We want our children to be healthy. We want parents to have that choice."
But Wuchner has caught flak from some Republicans, including lawyer-blogger Marcus Carey, who asked on his blog, The Bluegrass Bulletin: "Does Rep. Wuchner realize that she is violating about 15 fundamental Republican precepts against helping public schools or children in poverty, citing scientific facts, interfering with parental rights and promoting socialistic notions of healthy behavior?"
Tom Wurtz was likewise critical in a post on the Northern Kentucky Tea Party website, titled "Rep. Wuchner: Leave Our Kids' Big Macs Alone!"
"Most legislation starts out innocently enough, but it always leads to the destruction of our freedoms," he wrote. "The Dudley-Do-Rights always start off by just collecting data. Then they are so 'shocked' by the data that they feel compelled to take action to control our children. They will say they don't want to, but they must, because they love the kids so much and they like the power and control, too."
In an interview with Kentucky Health News, Wuchner said her critics are off base.
"I don't believe in a nanny state or a fat police and that's not what this bill is about," she said. "Just like we want 100 percent of our children reading by the third grade, we're saying, by 2013, we want our children to receive moderate to vigorous movement activity or physical activity 30 minutes a day."
As for adding the BMI measurement, Wuchner said the school forms already list height and weight, and the BMIs would provide data that could easily be compared over time and among schools.
"They could pull it by district or by county and know statistically are we improving or are we getting worse," she said.
That would allow creation of child obesity maps, like the one that accompanies this story for adult obesity, from www.kyhealthfacts.org.
Wuchner said she has sponsored similar proposals since 2006, a year after she supported Senate Bill 172, which limited sales of soft drinks and sugary snacks in schools.
"Now there is a heightened concern about the height and breadth of government," she said. "But public school is an institution that exists already. We're not reaching into their homes or in their bedrooms or under their kitchen tables and telling them they have to do jumping jacks. This is taking place in the school environment."
Wuchner's proposals are actually conservative, Louisville lawyer and Mitch McConnell biographer John David Dyche wrote in his column in The Courier-Journal on Jan. 4, the day the legislative session began.
"These measures would save the state money in the long run," he wrote. "Yet some Northern Kentuckians who should be Wuchner's allies are reacting with short-sighted ideological horror ... These critics evidently prefer that Kentucky continue suffering childhood obesity's enormous economic and human consequences, rather than having state government take sensible action on an issue so squarely within its 10th Amendment sphere."
The 10th Amendment, often cited by advocates of limited government, says that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Wuchner cited a November 2009 Emory University study concluding that by 2018 more than half of Kentuckians will be obese. The study also indicated that, in the next 10 years, the United States is expected to spend $343 billion on health-care costs attributable to obesity if rates continue to increase at their current levels.
"For me, this is an economic thing," she told The Kentucky Enquirer, an edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer. "It impedes the future of the state because no one is going to look at Kentucky when we have a population that is not healthy, that is not literate and able to work."
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
BR 159, to enact 30 minutes of physical education for school children a day: www.lrc.ky.gov/record/11RS/HB88.htm
BR 160, to enact inclusion of body mass indices on school physical examination forms: www.lrc.ky.gov/record/11RS/HB89.htm