Committee OKs 2 of 3 Bills on Child Fitness

Times Staff Writer

Two of three bills aimed at improving the physical fitness of public schoolchildren have passed out of the Assembly Education Committee and may be ready for a floor vote by June, Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier) said this week.

The two bills, authored by Calderon and Charles W. Bader (R-Pomona), were prompted by a three-year health study at a Montebello intermediate school that showed that a high percentage of adolescents suffer from serum cholesterol levels above 200.

The Cal Poly Pomona-sponsored study, which concludes next month, also indicates that schoolchildren are in generally poor health. The researchers conducted a variety of tests--including body-fat composition, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, strength and endurance.

"We've got a crisis situation here when it comes to the health and physical fitness of our kids," Calderon said in a telephone interview after the committee voted 11-3 to move the bills to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. "They are time bombs waiting to happen."

Expand to 10 Districts

The Calderon bill would finance three-year health studies, modeled after the Montebello pilot program, at 10 school districts in the state. The bill, which would cost taxpayers $360,000 over the course of the program, does not outline which school systems would be included in the study.

The Bader bill, which would cost "several million," would require full-time health and physical fitness instructors at all lower grade schools, said Calderon, who drafted that bill. "Poor health begins early in age," Calderon said.

A third bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), is expected to be heard May 2, Hayden spokesman Kip Wiley said.

The bill, which would allow voluntary cholesterol screening of all public schoolchildren, is being redrafted to "use existing resources" to conduct the testing, Wiley said. Under its present form, the bill could cost taxpayers as much as $1.4 million for the screening.

"While we admit that there is a price tag to this (three-bill package)," Calderon said, "that price tag pales in comparison to the high cost of treating heart disease and cancer and other health problems, which will inevitably show up in these kids."

High cholesterol is a major cause of heart disease, costing Americans about $50 billion in medical bills each year, researchers estimate.

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