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April 15, 2004     (512) 463-0300

Public School Food Examined by Interim Committee

The foods that our children buy and eat at school are being scrutinized by an interim committee of the Texas Legislature. The Joint Interim Committee on Nutrition and Health in Public Schools will examine the nutritional content of what our children are eating, evaluate the impact on their overall health, and look at how school districts contract with vendors for certain products.

Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., the chair of the committee, told the members "This crisis is a national problem, and I want Texas to lead the way in developing solutions that promote better health by teaching children to make wiser food and beverage choices."

Committee member Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs said that not enough Texas children are participating in school lunch programs and that is causing the state to lose millions of dollars in federal funds that could be used to provide nutritious food to students.

Another committee member, Representative Jaime Capelo, said the state needed to regulate what children are eating in school because their poor food choices are causing health problems. In coming years this will be a health issue that will result in increased medical expenses for the state.

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, a committee member representing the Texas Department of Health, said that concerns about school nutrition are only a symptom of the health issue faced by state government. He reported that over the past 20 years, health and human services have surpassed education as the biggest expenditure for state government. Dr. Sanchez also said that the gap will continue to increase as the population changes and "The burden of obesity will be borne by everyone in our state unless we do something about it...the number of obese Texans will triple by the year 2040, if recent costs continue, our (health) costs could quadruple to as much as 40 billion dollars."

Robert Scott of the Texas Department of Education was the first witness. He told the committee that while education about good eating habits starts at home, the schools have a large part to play. He also said that school boards that he has met with from across Texas are supportive of the committee's efforts.

Jose Montemayor, Commissioner of the Texas Department of Insurance, testified that insurance costs are rising in part due to the rising rates of obesity in Texas.

Barbara Keir from the Texas Department of Health, said that obesity is becoming widespread because "society has engineered all physical activity out of our daily routine. Today if most people want to exercise, they have to make time for it and as a result, they're not going to get any." She testified that today's fast food is calorie-rich, nutrient-poor, and easy to get.

John Perkins, from the Texas Department of Agriculture, described his agency's policy regarding which foods should be sold in schools, including limitations on sugar and fat in processed foods. It also requires that whole milk be available and limits students access to candy and foods of minimal nutritional value during school hours. By the 2005-2006 school year, no more than 30 percent of beverages in vending machines are to be sugared and carbonated.

Dr. John Menchaca, a member of the Health Professionals Advisory Committee said that children were becoming more and more overweight and that mothers need better education about how to properly feed their children.

Also scheduled to testify today were Celia Hagert, Senior Policy Analyst from the Center for Public Policy Priorities and Mike Hill, Vice President for Prevention. Mr. Hill is with the American Cancer Society.

The Joint Interim Committee on Nutrition and Health in Public Schools is chaired by Senator Eddie Lucio. Vice Chair is Representative Jodie Laubenberg. Members include Senators Robert Deuell and Jane Nelson, Representatives Jaime Capelo and Vicki Truitt along with Commissioners Susan Combs, Shirley Neeley and Eduardo Sanchez. Public members include Nancy M. DiMarco, PhD., Adrian B. Johnson, Ed.D., William John Klish, M.D., Dora Rivas, R.D., Michael J. Sullivan and Melissa Ann Wilson, M.D. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

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