Regular healthy meals help to prevent childhood obesity.

Big risks

There's a tsunami of diabetes cases on the horizon in Texas, where the adult obesity rate is 32.4 percent. That gives our state the 10th-highest rate in the country, according to a 2016 report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. By 2030 at the current pace, there will be a staggering 2.8 million cases of Type II diabetes in Texas.

 

Although obesity rates among Texas' two- to four-year-olds enrolled in a federal nutrition program decreased from 16.9 percent in 2010 to 14.9 percent in 2014, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that's still too many young Texans who are already on track to become unhealthy adults.

The fight against childhood obesity starts with the family. Despite popular misconceptions, the biggest babies are not always the healthiest, and French fries are not the best choice for babies' first solid food. Parental education is key, but because many young children spend more time in child-care settings than any other place besides home, Texas parents also need child-care providers to be strong partners in providing nutritious food.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services lays the foundation for lifelong health for the youngest Texans in its licensing standards for child-care programs. In our state, up to 1 million young kids attend licensed or regulated child-care programs.

Currently, Texas' minimum standards for child-care licensing as applied to infants and the prevention of obesity fall short. DFPS should strengthen its nutritional standards for licensing for infants and across the board, as requested by Texans Care for Children, a nonprofit, as well as 50 other health groups.

 

This problem is compounded because child-health training for staff at centers and homes is optional. DFPS should change its rules to require child-care staff to receive pre-service and annual training opportunities in nutrition and obesity prevention to further caregivers' skills in healthy menu planning, age-appropriate foods and snacks, and activities that promote active play.

Beyond the human tragedy of obesity, health care costs in Texas related to diabetes will skyrocket from $10.5 billion in 2010 to $39 billion by 2040 if the trend doesn't slow, as cited in the most recent Harris County State of the Health report.

Only 10.7 percent of children enrolled in the federal program in Texas were obese in 1990. That's too many. But if it was achievable 26 years ago, with the aid of smart public policies, Texas youth should be able to tip the scales with healthier weights 

Published on 12/11/2016