Monday, February 28, 2011

Let's Move Sheds Light on Austin

Increasing obesity rates in the United States in recent years have caused health and nutritional issues, especially those regarding children, to gain additional attention across the nation.

This issue is currently being addressed in the 82nd Texas Legislature in a series of bills that focus on altering nutritional standards and physical education programs in the Texas public schools.

In the House of Representatives, these bills include:
HB 127: relating to the types of beverages that may be sold to students on public school campuses; referred to Public Health.
HB 280: relating to requiring a health credit for high school graduation; referred to Public Education.
HB 281: relating to physical education credits required for high school graduation; referred to Public Education.
HB 643: relating to summer nutrition programs in school districts; referred to Agriculture and Livestock committee.

In the Senate, these bills include:
SB 185: relating to physical activity requirements for students in public schools; refereed to Education.
SB 225: relating to including in public school campus improvement plans and in local school health advisory council reports to school district boards of trustees certain goals and objectives or information in order to promote improved student health; referred to Education.

As these bills are debated in Austin, examining steps taken by the federal government in these areas is both interesting and relevant.

Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign has set childhood nutrition as a national priority in America. The campaign addresses the challenges that busy American families, including the Obama’s, experience and discusses how those challenges have an affect on individual nutrition. This video outlines some of the goals of the campaign:

In its first year, the campaign focused on the authorization of the Healthy-Hunger Free Kids Act, signed by President Obama in December 2010. This bill reauthorized the Child Nutrition Bill and, according to the Healthy Schools Campaign’s website, makes a “significant move to shape the future of school food.” It calls for several actions including:

• increasing the reimbursements that schools receive by six cents per meal;
• setting improved common-sense nutrition standards for school meals;
• bringing policies that help schools send consistent messages about healthy eating;
• simplifying the process that children who are eligible for free meals go through to receive those meals;
• piloting expansion of farm-to-school programs as well as organic foods.

As explained by the Healthy Schools Campaign, the creation of such federal policy is critical to the implementation of new programs and alterations to existing programs in state public schools. With the support of the federal government, state governments now have the leverage and the funding to promote nutritional and physical education programs that help fight current habits and obesity prevalent amongst American children.

The School Nutrition Association provides an outline of the large role that the federal government has played in the development of school nutritional programs through United States history. In 1962, President Truman passed the National School Lunch Act to provide reimbursement to states for school meals. Until the 1990s the bill focused primarily on school reimbursement and providing meals to low-income students. Nutritional standards were first introduced in 1993 when the USDA published the School Nutrition Diary, outlining nutritional problems with school meals. Following this report, changes focusing on the need to improve nutritional quality have gained attention and continue to be addressed. 

The proposed bills and alterations to the bills in the Texas Legislature are closely related to the current debate over nutrition and also to the national history of the issue. These current and past events help create a better understanding of the importance and relevance of the current debate in Austin.

-Kathryn Waggoner

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