FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 13, 2003
AUSTIN, TX Today state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) announced the filing of his Texas Schoolchildrens Nutrition and Health Act, Senate Bill 474, at a press conference in Austin aimed at eliminating obesity and poor nutritional habits among public school children through a series of innovative provisions.
State Rep. Jaime Capelo (D-Corpus Christi), who has made improving nutrition and health in public schools one of his main priorities, has agreed to sponsor the bill in the House. Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, a staunch advocate of promoting better eating habits among children, worked closely with Sen. Lucio to develop a sound and comprehensive proposal.
All of us as parents are concerned about the health and welfare of our children, and we think this is a giant step in creating the environment which will help them adopt healthier lifestyles, said Sen. Lucio. If were willing to spend money to maintain the life of our automobiles, why shouldnt we spend a little more on our kids so they live longer and healthier lives?
Obesity is a growing epidemic in Texas and it contributes to serious long-term health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. I have previously filed legislation seeking to establish good public policy regarding the food that is available to our school children. In partnership with Sen. Lucio, Commissioner Combs, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Texas Department of Health (TDH), the Texas Dietetic Association and the Texas School Food Service Association, we will have better nutrition in our schools and better health for our school children. The future of Texas economy is directly tied to the health of our children, said Rep. Capelo, chairman of the Public Health Committee.
Under this legislation, an elementary school could not serve or provide access to a competitive food at any time, while a middle school may allow or provide competitive food at the end of the regular school day and a high school after the final meal is served. Competitive foods are defined as any food or beverage that do not meet the nutritional standards allowed under the National School Breakfast Program, the National Lunch Program or the After School Snack Program, like certain types of a la carte foods and vending machine snacks.
Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs said, "Clearly, the items we are allowing to be served in our school cafeterias and vending machines are affecting the current and future health of our children. Some school kids receive 60 percent of their daily meals at school. Yet, they are being bombarded with items from snack lines and a la carte offerings that do not have to meet the same nutritional requirements as food served in the cafeteria. It is not uncommon to find in certain Texas schools snack line and a la carte offerings that include high-fat food. The bill specifically addresses this problem by requiring all foods at school--whether they come from a vending machine in the hallway or a snack line--to meet certain minimum nutritional standards."
Furthermore, the bill would prohibit a contract between a school or school district and a vendor of competitive foods, such as vending machine products, when the vendor is a school trustee or employee.
Any effort, legislative initiative or law that can turn back the tide of obesity sweeping Texas should be seriously considered, remarked Texas Health Commissioner Eduardo Sanchez, M.D. Schools play a critical role in the fight against obesity, and we should make sure that the school environment re-enforces the right decisions that our children, parents, school administrators and cafeteria managers make about nutrition and exercise.
In Texas, 38.7 percent of fourth-graders, 37.1 percent of eighth-graders and 29.4 percent of eleventh-graders are overweight and at risk of developing, and some already have, serious long-term health problems, including Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, hypertension, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, asthma and certain cancers.
The bill would create the Schoolchildrens Nutrition and Health Advisory Council, a 12-member body attached to TEA and its Child Nutrition Program, and composed of the Commissioners of Education, Health, and Agriculture, healthcare professionals, school food service professionals, school officials and a parent of a school child. The members will assist TEA, TDH, public health districts and health authorities in promoting physical, nutrition and health education to prevent childhood obesity and its accompanying illnesses, and developing programs that expand the use of agricultural products in school meals.
Among its duties, the Council must review current standards of school breakfast and lunch programs and recommend appropriate changes in meal content and practices, as well as meal schedules. Just recently Sen. Lucio mailed over 200 letters to school food suppliers in and outside of Texas requesting that they participate in donating to a specially created Fund TEA and the Council will establish and administer after passage of the bill.
The Fund could allow the implementation of a Breakfast Initiative, and perhaps a Lunch Initiative, for every public school child in Texas, as well as implement the nutrition services component of the coordinated health program for elementary students enacted last session by Senate Bill 19 (by Sen. Jane Nelson).
"Certainly, it is prudent for us all to encourage nutritious eating habits among our children. A nutritious environment that positively impacts children's long-term health will contribute to improving students' educational experiences, added Texas Education Commissioner Felipe Alanis, PhD.
"Healthy nutrition is critical to a child's mental and physical development," said DHS Commissioner Jim Hine. "Ensuring that Texas school children have access to nutritious meals is an investment in the future of Texas."
The bill would become effective Sept. 1, 2003, and schools would have to adopt written policies governing advertising of food products and regarding the nutritional content and quality of meals no later than March 1, 2004. A school district must hold a public hearing before the policy can be adopted, and post the hearing no later than the tenth day before they meet.