Texas Times: Working to reduce childhood obesity

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn Jan. 10, 2008, 10:33am

Our health care system, in Texas and nationally, leads the world in many respects. Most citizens are now well served, with excellent choices for their care, and we should make certain the access they enjoy is preserved.

But too many Texas families are uninsured and not receiving sound, preventive health care. At the same time, physicians across the state are struggling to afford staff salaries and necessary equipment as reimbursements continue to decline. I am committed this year to working through the legislative gridlock in Washington, and moving toward meaningful health care reform.

In the meantime, there are several steps each of us can take to improve our state's health care prognosis. One of the chief concerns is the rising rate of childhood obesity, particularly in Texas. Two recent studies in the New England Journal of Medicine reveal significant and alarming realities about this problem and its long-term impact.

One report shows that within just 12 years, more than one-third of American men and women will be obese at age 35. That will have consequences. An overweight person is more likely to suffer from a variety of related problems-chiefly diabetes and heart disease.

The second study found that as children between the ages of 7 and 13 gained even small amounts of excess weight, their risk for heart disease as adults increased. This is the first research that convincingly links excess weight in childhood to health problems later.
In Texas, nearly 20 percent of children are seriously overweight. In a recent report by Forbes, both San Antonio and Austin were ranked in the top five most obese cities in the country. In San Antonio, consumer purchasing patterns matched up with obesity rates, with residents there purchasing fast food 20 days out of each month.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General's office, 70 percent of overweight children will become overweight or obese as adults. Unfortunately, many parents of obese children do not see their children as part of the epidemic.

We have an opportunity in Texas to curb this alarming trend. By increasing awareness among parents of young children and informing everyone about the lifelong importance of healthy lifestyles, we can put the brakes on obesity at a young age. In doing so, we can also reduce prevalence of debilitating diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

In the U.S. Senate, I've tried to address this in several ways. Most recently, I introduced the bipartisan Catalyst to Better Diabetes Care Act that would boost diabetes prevention and treatment efforts. Among other provisions, the bill would help us monitor progress against diabetes by creating a National Diabetes Report Card to track prevention and screening efforts. It would also encourage states to do more to combat the disease.

The Senate also recently passed a 2007 Farm Bill that includes several provisions to improve childhood nutrition. I was able to amend the law to place a specific priority on childhood obesity in the Food Stamp program, and ensure the government does not encourage unhealthy diets.

I've also been a strong advocate for the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP), a national effort that was created to help initiate, expand and improve physical education programs for K-12 students. Several organizations in Texas have already taken advantage of this program.

It's all too easy these days to lapse into an unhealthy lifestyle. At the minimum, we should make certain our children have the best chance at a long and productive life by eating right and exercising. As the New Year starts, I encourage all Texas families to make a lasting resolution to steer onto a healthier course for our children.

Sen. Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee's Airland subcommittee. Cornyn served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice and Bexar County District Judge.

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