TMA Testimony by Stephen Pont, MD, MPH
House Public Education
House Bill 1227 by Rep. Rodney Anderson
April 21, 2015
Good afternoon Chair and members of the committee. My name is Stephen Pont, MD, MPH, I am a pediatrician, the Medical Director at the Texas Center for the Prevention & Treatment of Childhood Obesity, and serve as Medical Director for the Austin Independent School District. Today I’m testifying for myself, for my two sons who are benefitting from a great education in the Texas public school system, and on behalf of the Texas Medical Association and Texas Pediatric Society, representing over 48,000 physicians and 3,500 pediatricians in Texas. We are testifying in opposition to HB 1227.
Our state is facing a childhood obesity epidemic. The current Fitnessgram measurement provides essential data to allow schools, communities, the state and philanthropic groups to target resources to address the epidemic. Leaders at all levels of government have recognized the magnitude of the childhood obesity epidemic and the need for data to reverse the epidemic. Former Comptroller Susan Combs understood the impact of obesity on Texas and on Texas’ businesses and released reports citing her concern for the projected costs to Texas businesses as a result of the obesity epidemic. Despite promising work and interventions, this threat is real and this threat remains.
Without data and awareness, appropriate intervention programs cannot be developed and successfully targeted to address the obesity epidemic. Fitnessgram data has already been used by many districts to obtain grants and support for their students. The Austin Independent School District (AISD) would likely continue the measurement regardless of mandate because they know the value of the data and that it will lead to more money (e.g. grants) and resources for their students, and furthermore the data allows them to better allocate local resources. They also understand that healthier students miss less days of class and do better in school. Both of these outcomes are critical to school and student success.
In Central Texas this data has helped to bring in a $6.3 million Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration Grant targeting a community in Houston and in northwest Austin. In addition, Fitnessgram data has also helped secure funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation for a separate initiative targeting Southeast Austin. Both areas were childhood obesity hot spots highlighted by GIS maps created by the non-profit Children’s Optimal Health using de-identified Fitnessgram data. These data have also helped childhood obesity in other schools districts including Hays Consolidated ISD, Manor ISD and El Paso ISD. There is no doubt that many districts are utilizing Fitnessgram data to the fullest and that many others do not yet fully understand the potential power of Fitnessgram data. Instead of eliminating this program, we should share best practices regarding how to implement the Fitnessgram at the lowest cost and maximizing philanthropic support to schools. Fitnessgram enables schools to partner with their communities to address the unique challenges of their children.
Former Comptroller Combs recognizes the business impact of obesity on Texas and has taken steps to combat it. She also understands the value of the Fitnessgram data and invested money and energy to disseminate the data which can lead to positive change. In closing, I ask that we take steps to help schools implement Fitnessgram instead of doing away with it all together in an effort to capture critical data that we all can use to fight Texas’ costly obesity epidemic.
We look forward for the opportunity to work with you on this legislation.
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