ATLANTA - Georgia students could soon have to complete an annual fitness test supporters hope will take a bite out of childhood obesity and encourage healthier diets.
The Senate voted 34-14 Thursday on new requirements for each school system to conduct an annual fitness assessment program on their students by the 2011-2012 school year. The proposal, which was already adopted by the House, was sent to Gov. Sonny Perdue.
It was a victory for supporters who had pushed a similar plan unsuccessfully during last year's legislative session. That proposal died amid criticism of a provision that required students to step on the scales twice a year.
The new version stripped out the twice-yearly "weigh-ins," which would have been used to determine whether a child has a healthy body mass index. Instead, it would require school board districts to cobble together an annual fitness assessment for their students.
Under the proposal, no students would be punished if they failed to live up to the standards. But state Sen. Don Thomas, the measure's sponsor, said it would help identify and reward students who meet the new benchmarks.
"We recognize the star athletes, why shouldn't we recognize the average child that can run a mile?" asked Thomas, a physician who is a Dalton Republican.
Critics worried that the state can't afford to increase the burden on school boards amid the lean economic times. And they complained that parents, not teachers and bureaucrats, should be watching out for a student's physical health.
"Children are too big, and children do need to eat healthier," said state Sen. John Wiles, R-Marietta.
"But that's the parent's job. Maybe this is the role of the PTA, the churches, the synagogues, the mosques, the physicians of Georgia. But this is not the role of the government of Georgia."
The supporters, though, said concerns over the rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes among children is reason enough to support the new standards.
"We need to start early and really focus on the children of our state," said state Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta. "Not just their academic education, but their physical health as well."