TMA Testimony by Eduardo Sanchez, MD
Texas House Public Health Committee
April 5, 2016 Testimony
Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the House Public Health Committee. My name is Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, and I come before you today on behalf of two of the leading coalitions working to address the issue you are deliberating here today, obesity and chronic disease.
I serve as chair of the Texas Public Health Coalition and as a member of the Partnership for a Healthy Texas. Combined, these two groups represent more than 100 stakeholders from throughout Texas working for policy changes and advancements in key public areas. These include immunizations, physical activity and healthy eating, cancer prevention, and tobacco awareness and cessation. We have years of expertise in the community-based needs and resources that support these topics. We have testified before the legislature, and since 2011 have provided educational forums on child and public health topics for legislators and their staff.
Our membership has always shared a focus on the legislative appropriations request and budget process. Our membership also has always been reflective of work focused on the prevention and awareness of issues related to chronic disease.
Texas physicians and those in the public health community know that reducing chronic disease in our state means improving health conditions where Texans work, play, live, and learn. The environment plays a large role in supporting healthy Texans, including access to clean air and water. This is especially true for vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and children. We hope the legislature will bear this in mind during our remarks today and take action to ensure Texas does not fall victim to some of the environmental challenges that have plagued other states recently.
Today, however, I would like to highlight a few points regarding the obesity epidemic that’s in our future.
- Obesity has become the No. 1 health concern of parents, surpassing drug abuse and smoking. One in three children are overweight or obese, with 17 percent of children classified as obese.
- Obesity is the second leading cause of death in Texas, following tobacco.
- A 2010 literature analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found eight studies that confirmed one or more positive association between recess and indicators of cognitive skills, attitudes, and academic behavior. The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed in its 2014 Texas Health Status Report that regular physical activity is associated with improved health and longevity, even with only moderate levels of activity. Regular physical activity also decreases the risk of death from heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Texans; the risk of developing diabetes; and the risk of colon cancer. It helps prevent or reduce high blood pressure and helps maintain a healthy weight.
- Is it hyperbole to suggest that obesity is a national security issue? Well perhaps so, according to Mission Readiness, a nonprofit, national security organization of more than 500 retired generals, admirals, and other senior military leaders who work to ensure continued American security and prosperity by calling for smart investments in the upcoming generation of American children. According to this organization, 73 percent of Texans aged 17-24 are ineligible for military service because they are overweight, lack adequate education, and have a history of crime or drug use.
Because students and adolescents spend most of their time in class, schools must be part of the solution to their development of healthy habits. A global program of quality and meaningful physical education, including assessment of physical fitness, and strong nutrition standards can help prepare children to take care of their bodies for a lifetime. Over and above personal responsibility that children can learn in school, we still need powerful state-driven policy to combat unhealthy environmental influences our children face every day. Most importantly, it takes more than four years to meaningfully assess the impact a complete program will have on our schoolchildren.
Investing in our children’s public health should not be one of those areas the Texas Legislature shortchanges. Properly funding the recruitment and retention of quality physical education teachers, chronic disease awareness, and rigorous school nutrition standards will develop a strong work force that Texas is so aggressively trying to recruit and retain.
Additional policies like increased PE minutes and FitnessGram, which were both implemented in 2007, have enabled the tracking of youth fitness levels since the 2007-08 school year, revealing positive trends in terms of reduced body mass index and aerobic capacity that we need to preserve and enhance. Physical literacy is a part of the standard-based curriculum and learning objectives required in Texas; just like reading and math, physical education should be an integral part of core programming. The Texas Youth Fitness Study reported in 2010 a positive relationship among fitness, attendance, and academics, as well as an inverse relationship between fitness and delinquency. Preliminary research presented in December 2014 suggests that Texas youth with healthier levels of fitness continue to have stronger academic performance and school attendance.
We must see health education restored as a graduation requirement for high school, our schools nutrition standards should be adhered to and improved as new information becomes available, that schools and the workplace, for adults, should be places where being healthy is possible and easy. Healthy students are smarter students. They become adults with good jobs and who live healthier lifestyles. Theoretically, employers enjoy the fruits of a productive workforce with lower medical care costs. Society enjoys the fruits of lower burdens on the criminal justice system and on publicly funded medical care programs.
Findings recently released by The Cooper Institute in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology note that high-fit participants in a study showed 40-percent lower average annual health care costs compared with low-fit participants based on Medicare charges after age 65. This savings is significant, potentially equaling an average of $5,242 less for men’s annual health care costs and an average of $3,964 less for women’s annual costs. So by ensuring our children have access to a healthy life — we not only ensure that they will live longer and be more likely to remain healthy, but also we save taxpayer dollars.
Without a strong investment in prevention, we will never advance in the effort to curb diseases or curb the obesity epidemic in Texas. Texas should not be short-sighted in preparing a strong and healthy workforce, nor can jump to the conclusion that physical education and a global health program for our students work overnight. Any good investment takes time, and this investment is nurturing healthy children. We take great pride in our “get it done” attitude in Texas. Our way, the Texas way, has to include preparing a strong and healthy workforce by investing in physical education and global health programs for our students and by being patient that we take a long view to reap the benefits of those investments, which will serve future CEOs and Texas corporations, future Texas elected officials – Legislators and Governor, and Texas families.
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