State Senator Leticia Van De Putte, District 26

For Immediate Release
January 21, 2005
Contact: Deborah Travieso, (512) 463.0126

OP-ED

Tipping the Scales on Childhood Obesity

For the first time in over a century, Texas children will have shorter life expectancies than their parents. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, nearly 39% of both 4th grade girls and boys in Texas are considered overweight or obese. Childhood obesity in Texas has reached epidemic levels and we are now facing a healthcare crisis of enormous proportions.

As the Senator who represents one of the most obese cities in the nation (according to Men's Health magazine), I understand the urgency of this problem. An obese 12-year-old has a 75% chance of becoming an obese adult, and already 61% of Texas adults are considered overweight or obese. Twenty years ago type 2 diabetes was found almost exclusively in adults, now 5% of all Texas children are at risk of developing type 2 (also known as "adult onset") diabetes. And in addition to a myriad of physiological problems, obese children are also more likely to be targets of peer aggression, bullying/teasing, rumors or lies, and withdrawal of friendships.

In the Spring of 2004, Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, the Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services said, "any effort, legislative initiative or law, that can turn back the tide of obesity sweeping Texas should be seriously considered."

Is the legacy we want to leave for our children one of disease, disabling illness, and death? As both a Senator and a mom, I will be the first to stand up and say that the health and well-being of Texas children is not something that I am willing to compromise, no matter how hard the struggle is or how fierce the resistance to change.

In December 2004, a report was issued by the Joint Interim Committee on Nutrition and Health in Public Schools. The goal for the Committee was to promote healthier lifestyles for children by helping to make nutritional healthy choices at school. Additionally, the Committee produced several recommendations pertaining to obesity awareness and prevention, education and outreach, nutrition policy, and insurance. One of the recommendations, which called for the "[incorporation of] Body Mass Indexing during other already scheduled vision and hearing screenings" struck me as an excellent opportunity to utilize two of our strongest resources, parents and educators -- to address the growing problem of childhood obesity.

This is why I introduced SB 205, which would require school districts to calculate a student's Body Mass Index (BMI) and provide parents with information regarding their health status. BMI, which is the measurement of body fat based on height and weight, can be very useful in assessing the overall health of a student, thus protecting against life-threatening illnesses such as sleep apnea, gallbladder disease, hypertension, joint problems, anorexia and bulimia.

To help complement the current plans proposed by the both the Joint Interim Committee on Nutrition and Health in Public Schools and Commissioner Susan Combs' public school nutrition policy, I plan to create a separate "Health Information Card" which will be mailed directly to the student's parents or guardians and ensure that the BMI assessment is not conducted by a Math, English, or Science teacher, but by a registered school nurse or properly trained Health teacher in such a way that it is age and gender appropriate. By providing parents with information on BMI, obesity, and suggesting health-conscious choices about nutrition and exercise, we can ensure that Texas children have the opportunity to live long and productive lives.

In response to concerns from some that SB 205 would "invade" a child's privacy or "grade" them on their health performance, I have been working on fine tuning the bill to address these concerns and achieve Texas' goal of preventing child health problems, while also protecting the privacy of students.

As a health professional for 25 years, it breaks my heart to see children no longer only coming in for medicine to cure their sniffles, or bandages for their scraped knees, but for vials of insulin for their adult-onset diabetes and high blood pressure medicine for their struggling hearts. It's time for Texans to actively protect and promote the health of its youngest and most vulnerable citizens. The research has been done, testimony has been heard, recommendations have been made and now it is time for action. SB 205 takes a much needed step in the right direction -- towards creating a productive dialogue within our communities, towards fostering a bridge between parents and educators, towards creating a healthy and economically productive generation of tomorrow by protecting our children, today.

Senator Van de Putte represents District 26 where she and her husband have lived and raised their family for over 27 years.

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