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Kansas Legislators Prioritize Obesity but Overlook Nutrition and Physical Activity Issues

Heinrich, Katie M. PhD; Stephen, Mellina O. MPH; Vaughan, Katherine B. MPH; Kellogg, Melinda BS

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: March/April 2013 - Volume 19 - Issue 2 - p 139–145
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e318254cc57
Original Articles

Introduction: State-level policymakers play an important role in the fight against obesity because of their ability to create policies that influence opportunities for physical activity and nutrition.

Objective: In 2011, we investigated how Kansas policymakers regarded obesity, nutrition, and physical activity in comparison to other issues.

Design: This study used a cross-sectional design.

Setting: This study was conducted in Kansas, a predominately rural and Republican Midwestern state.

Participants: All 181 state-level policymakers in Kansas were mailed a cover letter and survey.

Main Outcome Measures: Policymakers were asked to identify and rate the importance of issues or problems in need of attention for Kansas. The 2011 state legislative report was content analyzed and coded to match the survey. Comparisons were made by political party.

Results: Of the 49 policymakers who completed a survey, 37 were Republicans and 43 were elected to their position. Although obesity-related issues were rated second highest after jobs, physical activity– and nutrition-related issues were not seen as important problems; moreover, little corresponding legislation was introduced. Other key issues identified by policymakers included budget/spending/taxes, education, jobs/economy, and drug abuse, with more legislation reflecting these problems. The Democrats ranked 11 issues as more significant problems than did the Republicans: quality of public education, poverty, access to health care, lack of affordable housing, ethics in government, lack of public health training, access to healthy groceries, lack of pedestrian walkways/crosswalks/sidewalks, pedestrian safety, air pollution, and global warming (P < .05).

Conclusions: There is a need to provide more public health education on the relationship between nutrition and physical activity issues and obesity for Kansas policymakers. Issues identified may be similar for other predominately rural and Republican states.

The study investigates how Kansas policymakers regarded obesity, nutrition, and physical activity in comparison to other issues.

Department of Kinesiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan.

Correspondence: Katie M. Heinrich, PhD, 1A Natatorium, Department of Kinesiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506 (

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.