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June 29, 2004     (512) 463-0300

School Nutrition for Kids on Front Burner at Capitol

While some legislators are concentrating on school funding this interim, others are examining the role of proper nutrition in a good education. The Joint Interim Committee on Nutrition and Health in Public Schools is working on how to keep students properly fed.

Chairman Eddie Lucio Jr. told the committee that he expected any owners of vending machines to provide product choices that have nutritional value, rather than simply stocking machines with soda and candy. Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs echoed these sentiments, saying that recent studies show that students who regularly start the day with a good breakfast score higher on tests than those who don't.

Committee co-chair Representative Jodie Laubenberg said those empty calories cause students to be not only poorly fed, but overweight at the same time. Witnesses from the Texas Department of Health agreed that obesity leads to poor self-esteem and other psychological problems, as well as low test scores.

Dr. Deanna Hoelscher of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, followed up on the obesity discussion, saying that a new study of fourth graders shows that Texas children are heavier than their counterparts in other parts of the country, and that children are heavier on the Mexican border than in other parts of the state. She linked the development of chronic diseases to childhood obesity, even when the children lose that weight during the teenage years.

Dr. Paul Villas, from UT-Pan American, reported that his work with students on the Mexico border showed a direct link between obesity and the occurrence of childhood Diabetes, with rates highest among minority groups and the poor. He said that eating too much of the wrong foods, along with reduced exercise, leads to conditions such as high cholesterol and diabetes, which are normally found only in adults.

Janice Cooper, Superintendent of the Lake Worth School District, told the committee that her district adopted the school breakfast program because of its success in other school districts. She told the committee "hungry children cannot learn", and that if they buy any food at all for themselves outside of school it's a candy bar and a soda at a convenience store. Her experience is that children are more likely to eat breakfast at school than at home and that their breakfast program does not reduce class time. Public testimony followed.

The Joint Interim Committee on Nutrition and Health in Public Schools is chaired by Senator Eddie Lucio and Representative Jodie Laubenberg. Members include Senators Robert Deuell and Jane Nelson, along with Representatives Jaime Capelo and Vicki Truitt. State agency commissioners on the panel include Susan Combs from the Texas Department of Agriculture, Shirley Neeley from the Department of Education and Eduardo Sanchez from the Texas Department of Health. Public members include Nancy DiMarco, Ph.D., Adrian B. Johndon, 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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