Republican lawmaker, a nurse and former hospital boss, offers bills to help children’s health, gets criticism from tea-party types

By Tara Kaprowy
Kentucky Health News

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, left, 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.

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!”

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. 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 a map of child obesity like the one below for adult obesity, from http://www.kyhealthfacts.org/. (Click on image for larger version)

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.” (Read more)

Here are Wuchner’s bills, as links:
BR 159, to enact 30 minutes of physical education for school children a day
BR 160, to enact inclusion of body mass indices on school physical examination forms
BR 197, relating to early education assessment and intervention
BR 310, to establish a Legislative Task Force on Childhood Obesity
BR 312, to educate parents and caregivers about pediatric abusive head trauma

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