|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
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Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
For Health, Bigger Isn’t Always Better
Polk County Enterprise - February 2008
By Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
In Texas, we are known for bragging, “Bigger is better.” From our pick-up trucks, to our linebackers, and to our cuts of beef, our state holds a premium on size. Health, however, is where this trend stops. More and more, we are faced with the reality that excess weight can take a heavy toll on a person’s health, leading to debilitating and often deadly illnesses, such as diabetes. With obesity on the rise, healthcare costs skyrocketing, and the wellness of our children at stake, diabetes is one of the major problems we face.
Diabetes is a devastating disease that can deteriorate an individual’s health, causing a lifetime of complications, including blindness, heightened susceptibility to infection and sickness, heart disease, and, in many cases, premature death. In our state, diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death. It can also adversely affect a person’s quality of life, due to increased disabilities, lost wages, and diminished access to care. In 2006, the indirect cost of diabetes in Texas reached $4.3 billion. When added to the $8.1 billion in health care dollars associated with the illness, the total cost of diabetes in Texas soared to $12.46 billion.
On a broad level, Texas is leading research efforts to find a cure for diabetes. Last week, the National Institutes of Health designated the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston a Diabetes and Endocrinology Research Center. Renowned for its worldwide leadership in the study of diabetes, the center will be one of 17 in the country and the only one in Texas. The work of this and other research institutions is critically important to Texas, which has a climbing obesity rate.
Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), an advocacy organization that monitors health conditions in each state, recently placed Texas twelfth nationwide in obesity, reporting that approximately one in four adults in the state is considered clinically obese. It is projected that our state’s obese population will rise to a staggering 35.8 percent by 2040. And as Texans’ waistlines expand, so will the diabetes epidemic in our state.
A new and alarming trend in diabetes is the rise in cases of type 2 diabetes among children. Formerly known as “adult onset,” the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in individuals under 20 has increased from less than 2 percent to as much as 45 percent over the last 20 years. In addition to fragile health and the potential for lifelong medical problems, children with diabetes are negatively impacted in other areas of their lives. Diabetic children are frequently absent from school, are more likely to have learning difficulties, and demonstrate poor academic performance over the course of their education. Since Texas ranks sixth nationwide in the percentage of obese youth (ages 10 – 17), we are faced with the major challenge of ensuring that the next generation of Texans are fit and healthy.
In Texas, we are not taking this challenge lightly.
Currently, Texas is one of only 17 states that requires school breakfasts, lunches, and snacks to meet higher nutritional standards than the U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates. This is an important first step, but the foundation for a healthy lifestyle must be reinforced in the home. In the 2007 Farm Bill, I created an elementary school pilot program that encourages parents to participate in nutrition education with their children. Under this program, schools would be able to employ a nutrition coordinator to assist them in establishing a comprehensive nutrition and fitness program for parents and students alike. This program is one of the first of its kind and it will help prevent obesity and promote healthy lifestyles among families.
Congress recognizes the urgent need for diabetes research and efforts to find a cure. In late 2007, I cosponsored a bipartisan measure to fund clinical trials on new medications, identification of factors that place individuals at risk of developing the disease, and efforts to reduce health complications caused by diabetes.
Diabetes is a massive challenge that requires a comprehensive solution. From the family dinner table to the school cafeteria, and from the research lab to the halls of Congress, efforts to prevent diabetes must be a priority.
Sen. Hutchison is the Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.