BILL TO COMBAT OBESITY IN TEXAS PASSES FULL SENATE
(Helps raise Texas' score on obesity efforts in national study)
AUSTIN, TX--A comprehensive bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. aimed at helping Texans develop healthier eating and other lifestyle habits to overcome overweight and obesity problems gained full Senate approval today (31-0).
"Senate Bill 1379 is a culmination of recommendations made to the Joint Interim Committee on Nutrition and Health in Public Schools that I chaired last year," said Sen. Lucio. "All indications by the medical community are that if we do not act aggressively and smartly, the costs to treat diseases related to overweight and obesity could quadruple from $10 billion today to $40 billion a generation from now."
The recently released report for 2005 by the University of Baltimore on the legislative measures taken by states to control the obesity epidemic lists SB 1379 as a reason for raising Texas' score from a low or failing grade to a "B." The state of California made an "A" on its childhood obesity efforts. In 2004 we scored a "C" in our efforts to control obesity, and a "D" in controlling it in children.
"Legislators must take the lead in getting businesses and voters to cooperate in finding a solution. Texas' SB 1379 is an excellent example of the kinds of active steps that state governments can enact that will make a real contribution," said Dr. Kenneth R. Stanton, Merrick School of Business, University of Baltimore.
One of the bill's most critical components for Sen. Lucio is paving the way for a universal breakfast program for all public school students in the state by creating a fund that can accept gifts and donations to help schools not considered Provision 2 but want to offer a free breakfast program to all students to offset costs.
"Currently schools with about 80 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced price meals can apply for federal reimbursement for all meals, and my bill would allow schools with only 60 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced price meals to be eligible for federal reimbursement if they offered a free breakfast program to all students," said Sen. Lucio. "Establishing a fund is the first step toward reaching my goal of a universal breakfast program for every Texas public school student."
Sen. Lucio cited numerous benefits when a child eats a nutritional breakfast before class begins, including improved academic scores, expanded attention spans and better behavior. Eating a healthy breakfast daily is also credited for decreased trips to the school nurse, lower drop-out rates, and fewer disciplinary referrals and tardiness.
The bill also creates an Interagency Obesity Council that requires the commissioners of Agriculture, State Health Services and Education to meet at least yearly to discuss the status of their agencies' health and nutrition programs,
and to continue developing ideas to help Texans achieve healthier weights and habits.
The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is directed to select a community and work with it to analyze its nutrition habits and physical activity levels, and to help coordinate the community's existing resources to determine the feasibility of a comprehensive obesity-prevention initiative and segments of the population not reached by current resources and programs to improve health.
A highly important charge made under this bill to DSHS is to evaluate the need for a Texas Wellness Council. Many states have Wellness Councils, which are usually partnerships between communities and the private sector aimed to improve and maintain good health among employees through health promotion initiatives at the worksite.
Sen. Troy Fraser offered an amendment, which Sen. Lucio accepted, that would more clearly specify that the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) analyze the benefits of health insurance coverage for obesity. TDI would have to assess the fiscal impact of such an initiative and make recommendations to the Legislature by September 1, 2006.
Children in public schools, under this bill, will not have access to beverages of minimal nutritional value larger than 12 ounces, and vending machines in schools cannot contain more than 30 percent of beverages that are of minimal nutritional value. These beverages, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture child nutrition program, are carbonated beverages.
The bill also allows the Commissioner of Agriculture to establish the public school nutrition policy, and provides that any future changes made after September 1, 2005, when the bill becomes effective, be made by rulemaking authority to protect the integrity of the policy and prevent weakening of its provisions in the future.
The bill must now be referred to a House Committee and then be sent to the full House for approval.