Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, February 3, 2014

Students win 1st place at national policy competition

Available online

The Fightin' Bobs' 10-page policy analysis memo and the slide presentation prepared for the 2013 Challenge on policies to respond to childhood obesity is available online.

From left: Jiaqi Lu, Norma-Jean Simon, Selina Eadie, Miriam Palmer and Andrew Walsh with their trophy after winning the national Policy Solutions Challenge in Washington, D.C.

Below: After the competition the team visits with 2012 alum Linda Collins, who came with classmates Katherine Sydor and Andrew Peppard to watch the Fightin' Bobs.

A team of five La Follette School students won first place in a national public affairs competition in Washington, D.C., March 22-23.

Miriam Palmer, Selina Eadie, Andrew Walsh, Norma-Jean Simon and Jiaqi Lu won the Policy Solutions Challenge USA. They won the Midwest regional competition held March 1-2 at Ohio State University.

The five presented their strategies for combating childhood obesity, using policy and cost-benefit analysis to support their recommendations that states adopt three policies to reach children at all stages in their lives. 

"The first policy recommendation is to establish minimum standards of infant feeding and physical activity for child-care providers," Palmer says. "Providers would receive additional state reimbursements for implementing more of the standards. Child-care settings are already regulated, and this policy would take advantage of that system to reach children between birth and 5 years." 

A five-year pilot of obesity reduction programs in elementary and middle schools is the second policy recommendation. "Many programs such as Farm-to-School are already taking place, but they lack rigorous evaluation," Palmer says. "After the initial pilot program and required evaluation, the most effective programs could be adopted statewide."

Older children with their own spending money are the primary target of the third policy recommendation, although it would reach children of all ages. This policy would establish a threshold excise tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages, to be levied on distributors. Beverages could contain 1 gram of sugar per ounce of liquid; any sugar over that amount would be taxed a penny per gram of sugar.

"Our hope is that the threshold would make this tax politically more feasible than straight sugar taxes, because some amount of sugar would not be taxed," Palmer says. "States would generate a large amount of revenue from this tax that could be used to fund the other two policies and to balance budgets."

"We recommend states adopt all three policies, but we recognize that each is effective on its own," Palmer adds. "All policies produce positive net benefits for society and would reduce childhood obesity over the next 20 years."
"I am very proud of the hard work and preparation the students put into this exercise," says their faculty adviser, David Weimer, an internationally recognized expert on cost-benefit analysis and Edwin E. Witte Professor of Political Economy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. "Their success says much about their ability as well as the talent the La Follette School attracts."

"We are very lucky to have such a wonderful advisor in Dr. Weimer and are incredibly grateful to have the school support throughout the competition process," Eadie says. "I think I speak for the team when I say that it was a great experience!"

Gifts to the La Follette School from alumni and friends helped defray the students' travel expenses. In addition, alumni Lindsay Read ('09) and Carissa DeCramer ('08) provided housing for three students.

The team from the University of Arkansas' Clinton School of Public Service took second place, and the team from Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions won third place.

Policy Solutions Challenge USA is a national competition among teams of students from U.S. schools of public policy, public affairs and public administration to develop innovative solutions to the most important policy problems facing the country.

A version of this article appears in the spring 2013 issue of La Follette Notes.