Eye on Legislation

by April Durrett on Oct 24, 2008

Inspire the World to Fitness®

Discover how proposed federal legislation would help Americans improve their health, fitness and wellness.

While fitness professionals are working at the grassroots level to help people in their communities get healthier, national legislation can make it easier for exercisers and nonexercisers alike to better their lives through activity. As of press time, the following health-related items are being considered on Capitol Hill.

Federal Legislation

The Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act (H.R. 3257/S. 2173) amends the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act to support quality physical education and activity for all public school children through grade 12 and ensure they receive important health and nutrition information. The proposed changes to NCLB include

  • holding schools accountable for providing high-quality physical education (PE) every day, and encouraging healthy habits. They would be required to include multiple performance measures for PE. These include measuring progress toward national PE goals of 150 minutes per week for elementary-school students and 225 minutes per week for middle- and high-school students;

  • requiring all schools, districts and states to report on quantity and quality of physical education;

  • ensuring that children get the information and support they need throughout their education to help them live a healthy life;

  • supporting professional development for health and physical education teachers and principals to boost students’ ability to learn and help promote healthy lifestyles and physical activity; and

  • funding research and a pilot program to support effective ways to combat childhood obesity and improve healthy living and physical activity for all children.

The Workforce Health Improvement Program (WHIP) Act (H.R. 1748/S. 1038) promotes wellness in the workforce by balancing current law and allowing for offsite fitness center memberships as a tax-free benefit for employees. Current law allows employees to use onsite fitness facilities free of any tax implications, but when a business needs to outsource this health benefit, employees who receive offsite fitness center subsidies are required to pay income tax on the benefits. And their employers bear the associated administrative costs of complying with IRS rules. The WHIP Act eliminates this tax on offsite fitness center subsidies, making it easier for all employers to offer important exercise incentives for their workers.

The Healthy Workforce Act (H.R. 3717/S. 1753 and 1754) motivates employers to implement workplace wellness programs. It provides a tax credit for 50% of the cost of a qualified employer health promotion program, up to $200 per employee for the first 200 employees and $100 per employee for remaining employees. The credit is realized through income tax credits or payroll tax, depending on the status of the employee. The act also directs the CDC to develop an outreach program that would make employers aware of the tax credit and educate them on how to develop effective programs and measure success. Another initiative in the act is to instruct the CDC to expand the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to include a workforce component.

Update: Last year, when IDEA reported on this act, it had been introduced in the Senate. The act was also introduced in the House of Representatives in 2007 as H.R. 3717.

The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act (H.R. 245) would allow individuals to use up to $1,000 a year from pretax Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts or Medical Savings Accounts to pay for exercise programs, gym memberships, fitness equipment and sports-league fees for kids and adults. According to the Interna-tional Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, that means Americans could save 20%–30% a year on their fitness- related costs because they wouldn’t be paid for with taxable income.

Update: Last year, when IDEA reported on this act, it had been referred to the House committee. Now it has also been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.

The Health Promotion FIRST (Funding Integrated Research, Synthesis and Training) Act (S. 866/H.R. 5835) amends the Public Health Service Act. It would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a strategy that would include coordinating the health promotion activities of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Under this act the HHS would address how best to

  • develop the basic and applied science of health promotion;

  • synthesize and disseminate health promotion research;

  • support the health promotion community; and

  • modify or develop resources, policies, structure and legislation to integrate health promotion into all health professions and sectors of society.

Update: Last year, when IDEA reported on this act, it had been introduced in the Senate. It was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2008 as H.R. 5835. n

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About the Author

April Durrett

April Durrett IDEA Author/Presenter

April Durrett is a contributing editor for IDEA Fitness Journal.