FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 27, 2009
Austin, TX — Addressing nutrition and health among children will no longer be delayed until they're in school under Senate Bill 395 by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. that will require evaluating these issues during the critical early years of a child's development.
Recently the state has pursued policies to confront rising childhood obesity rates through improvements in school meals and increased physical activity during the school day, but little has been done to address the wellness of Texas' youngest children.
"Ignoring this population is short-sighted because we know that at least one out of every four children between the ages of two and five are overweight or obese," said Sen. Lucio. "The good news is that when you target improving the health of very young children, parents are more engaged, so the practices we teach are more likely to be passed along to the home."
The Early Childhood Health and Nutrition Interagency Council, created by SB 395, was unanimously approved in both chambers of the Legislature and is now headed to the Governor. The Council will be comprised of representatives from seven state agencies that play a role in public health, or the licensing and regulation of child care or pre-kindergarten programs. It will be administratively linked to the Department of Agriculture and charged with the creation of a six-year state plan to address activity and nutrition for early childhood populations.
"I commend Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples for his commitment to lowering obesity rates in Texas," said Sen. Lucio. "His leadership has already been pivotal to improving nutrition in our schools and will be crucial to our goal of addressing a significant population that we have previously excluded from our efforts to curb obesity rates in Texas."
Currently, there are almost no statewide activity or nutrition standards for childcare centers and pre-kindergarten programs, indicating a desperate need for this legislation. The State Demographer and the Comptroller have recently stated that unless Texas takes serious action now, the number of obese Texans could triple within 30 years, and by 2040 the associated price tag could reach $39 billion.
The Council will assess what nutrition and physical activity in children under six is the most significant, and will evaluate the most effective nutrition and physical activity requirements and practices in early childhood care.
Executive Director of the Texas Association of Local Health Officials, Mr. Lee Lane, noted, "Life-long eating habits and physical activity practices take shape early in a child's life, so it is important for a child to develop good eating habits and physical activity patterns during their youngest years to help lay a foundation for establishing long-term healthy lifestyle habits.
"There is new evidence suggesting that more children are entering kindergarten overweight. This trend," he added, "is especially problematic because the earlier weight problems develop; the more difficult they are to overcome. Studies show that seventy percent of overweight children will become overweight adults."
According to Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services Director, Ms. Yvette Salinas, "Within Cameron County in 2008, 11.3% of children 24 months or older certified through WIC (Women, Infant and Children's Nutrition Program) were identified as overweight and 10.3% of the children were identified at risk of being overweight."
Ms. Salinas emphasized that "when you work with these types of figures and clients, one can see how critical Senate Bill 395 is. It will bring key players to the table to discuss child obesity and tackle the health problems associated with assessing the current obesity problem, reviewing existing practices within the communities and identifying resources to create a workable solution to this problem."
Another expert in the field of child nutrition and health, President/CEO of the United Way of Southern Cameron County, Ms. Traci Wickett, said, "During the past forty years, obesity rates have increased almost fivefold among children ages 6 to 11, and today nearly 25 million young people are overweight, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation."
Ms. Wickett further reported that at "United Way of Southern Cameron County our Success By 6 initiative has the goal of all children entering school prepared to succeed, and healthy children are more likely to be successful students. Addressing the health risks of children under the age of six is a key strategy in our efforts, and we salute Senator Lucio for his efforts on behalf of our youngest citizens.”
"SB 395 is the gateway to curbing obesity at the heart of the matter – when a child is very young – through the necessary coordination that will lead to proper nutrition, health care and more awareness for families and communities," said Sen. Lucio.