Editor’s note: This is part 2 in a series from our health policy coordinator, Lauren Dimitry, who is reflecting on what Texas can do to reverse childhood obesity and get more Texas children the healthy start they need. Read part 1 of the series here.
How can we make this happen for kids? First, we can increase the production of healthy foods across Texas.
Obesity prevention policies that have to do with nutrition are basically focused on two things: increasing how much the good stuff kids get and decreasing how much of the bad stuff they eat. On the state and community level, we do this through policies and programs designed to educate, support, and encourage healthy food choices, as well as those designed to discourage or raise awareness about things that are not consistent with an everyday, healthy diet. If we approach this problem from the ground up, step one to increasing healthy eating is to increase the production and sale of healthy food across Texas.
A recent report reminded me that we need to get healthy, affordable food in the ground, from the farm, to a retail location, and on plates across Texas now more than ever. The report finds that the percent of U.S. teens with pre-diabetes and Type II diabetes has more than doubled. In 2000, pre-diabetes and Type II diabetes were seen in 9% of teens, but in 2008 that number rose to 23%. As our diets have gotten progressively worse, children across the country are being diagnosed with Type II diabetes — a condition that was previously seen almost exclusively in adults. Type II diabetes is closely related to diet and lifestyle factors. Our kids aren’t just in an unhealthy weight zone; in the case of Type II diabetes, their bodies are sick.
At a hearing in April at the Capitol, Texas lawmakers and constituents, like farmers and program directors from across the state came together to discuss how to best increase healthy food production through small-scale farms, urban farms, and community gardens.Lawmakers asked if there are regulatory issues that could be addressed to increase small-scale farming or things the state could do to give private land owners incentives to grow good foods, as well as ways to better utilize public land to increase community gardens. Turns out, yes, all of the above. Alongside our partners in the Texas Food Policy Roundtable we will be working on the formation of bills to address these issues and increase healthy food production in Texas to expand and support the good work already happening in local Texas communities. Urban farms and community gardens are not only a critical source of healthy food; they also provide an excellent opportunity to educate children.
Like most tricky problems, diet-related health problems are not going to completely reverse themselves or go away just by increasing the production of healthy foods. But if we look at our current food environment of cheap, processed, and fast food it couldn’t be more obvious that what goes in the ground matters. What type of food children learn about and interact with matters. An important step forward for Texas would be to support and encourage local farming and gardening efforts. As these bills start to take form, I hope you’ll add your voice to the conversation. Join me next time when I take a look at what’s currently going on in Texas schools to address the obesity epidemic and what we need to do to keep moving forward.