FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 11, 2009
In 2007 the 80th Legislature designated the second full week of September as Obesity Awareness Week.
While this new observance in Texas was created to raise awareness of the obesity problem that continues to plague us, we are making inroads and continue to push ahead.
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, "Two-thirds of American adults are either obese or overweight. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. In 1980, the national average for adult obesity was 15 percent."
The Department of State Health Services reports that in the 32 border counties, 72 percent of the adult population is obese or overweight, compared to 66 percent for the state.
The price on human health and health care costs for Texas is overwhelming. The annual direct and indirect cost of obesity is expected to rise from $10.5 billion in 2000 to between $18.8 billion to $39 billion in 2040.
It was obvious something had to be done. When I first became involved with the obesity/overweight issue 10 years ago, it was a challenge just to bring attention to the problem. Over the course of our last three legislative sessions, much more thought has been directed toward this crisis in our state.
In 2001, I passed a bill that created the Food for Health Advisory Council to coordinate health research programs with the added goal of improving fruit and vegetable consumption. I also supported legislation by Sen. Jane Nelson that required 30 minutes of PE in elementary schools.
The following year, a joint interim committee to study health and nutrition in public schools that I created through legislation and headed involved statewide experts to closely examine our school children's problems with obesity and overweight. We proposed solutions that primarily attempted to improve the foods and beverages sold and served in our schools.
During the 80th session, I introduced a bill that created a worksite wellness program for state employees allowing state agencies to adopt policies permitting employees to devote 30 minutes, three times a week to exercise. The purpose was to help employees achieve more desirable weights and lifestyles for optimum health.
To further our mission, I additionally passed legislation that created an interagency council among three state entities to make recommendations on how to better address obesity prevention in Texas.
My legislative efforts also enhanced a long-standing diabetes risk assessment program at the Border Health Office at UT-Pan American University.
That same session, the Legislature expanded PE requirements for middle schoolers.
Yet the challenge remained daunting. This past session, we approved a bill that created grant programs through the Department of Agriculture to provide nutrition education to children in early education and child care centers. We moved the focus from school age children to the very young. Why?
New evidence suggests that children are entering kindergarten overweight. The Center for Children's Health Innovation reports that 26.2 percent of children ages two to five in this country are overweight or obese. This trend is especially problematic because the earlier weight problems develop, the more difficult they are to overcome.
To create an early childhood nutrition and activity plan, I passed a law that is now coordinating studies and providing better oversight to the state's existing nutrition and physical activity programs and requirements in early childhood care centers.
I am confident that with concerted effort, we can reverse the growing trend of overweight/obesity problems and poor nutrition conditions beginning with our youngest Texans.
It seems that our busy lifestyles and lack of nutrition information have caused a malnourished, overweight and obese population with children who may die of health related illnesses while we're still in our twilight years.
I urge our South Texas communities--officials, educators, medical professionals, nutritionists, parents and even business leaders--to do your part to improve your health through better food choices and exercise, and to get involved in the crusade against the obesity/overweight epidemic in Texas.
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.