FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 12, 2009
Austin, TX — A segment of the population that has been neglected in previous efforts to improve children and adult wellness represents a key piece in solving the obesity crisis that has swept our nation.
Children under five comprise that group and are the focus of Senate Bill (SB) 395 I've filed this 81st Legislative Session that would create the Early Childhood Health and Nutrition Interagency Council under the direction of our Texas Agriculture Commissioner in coordination with other state agencies.
Since 2007, an estimated 21.3% of low-income children between two and five, who are enrolled in the Texas Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program, were reported as overweight or obese. (This data includes some as young as one.)
And the financial cost is growing as well. In 2005, the Comptroller estimated that obesity-related problems cost Texas businesses a total of $3.3 billion in direct and indirect costs that include insurance rates, employee absenteeism and others. If this trend continues, the direct costs to businesses are projected to increase to $15.8 billion.
The Department of Agriculture has conducted studies indicating that at the current pace, by 2040, 75 percent of the Texas adult population will be overweight or obese, costing the state up to $39 billion in direct and indirect costs.
Texas can't afford to neglect addressing early childhood nutrition and activity if we are to improve the ailing health of this state and nation. We especially can't afford to delay addressing this issue until children reach school age.
Obese children face a 50% chance of becoming obese during adulthood, which is frightening considering about one-third of school aged children in Texas are currently overweight. We have addressed P.E. and school nutrition policy, now we need to assist our schools so their entering kindergarteners don't start their academic careers with poor health.
If passed, the legislation would help us identify barriers to improving nutrition and physical activity standards in early childhood care centers, while finding the best means for improving early childhood health through nutrition and physical activity.
A study on the continuing rise in childhood obesity conducted by BioMed Central reports that even among preschool children "the prevalence of obesity is alarmingly high, with 26.2% of children aged 2 through 5 years in the United States classified as either overweight or obese."
The report also indicates that early childhood obesity is associated with the development of a variety of adverse health consequences that can include Type II diabetes, hypertension, asthma, sleep apnea, early maturation and lower self-esteem.
It is difficult to conceive of young children developing diseases that were once limited to aging populations. SB 395 will help us determine how best to address the health, nutrition and wellness of children during some of the most important years in their development.
My bill also requires an Early Childhood and Activity Plan to be implemented over a six-year period. This plan will help ensure that young children in child care centers gradually increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, as well as their daily structured and unstructured physical activity.
Through this Plan, the Council could assess what nutrition and physical activity in the development of children under six is most significant, and evaluate the most effective nutrition and physical activity requirements and practices in early childhood care.
However, it will require more than just an appointed body and a plan on paper to reverse the trend among our youngest of Texans. Besides other requirements like increasing parent awareness of the benefits of breast feeding--one of nature's most nutritious plans --the bill also proposes to engage existing community and state resources to educate parents and caretakers on the need for proper nutrition.
Many people, including parents of overweight youngsters, aren't aware that proper nutrition and activity are also essential for the youngest. Research tells us that the preschool period is a critical time for growth, development and for mitigating the risk of obesity later in life. Data developed by this Council could also be compared to that of other states to help us monitor our successes and develop appropriate programs that serve the health needs of very young Texans.
I hope SB 395 will garner support from my colleagues for the benefit of one of our most vulnerable populations, yet most promising generations.
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.