June 28, 2011 | Stine Chairs First Meeting of Childhood Obesity Task Force
I was excited to chair the inaugural meeting of the Childhood Obesity Task Force at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport last Tuesday during the General Assembly’s annual Northern Kentucky Day.
The first meeting saw a packed agenda with multiple experts testifying on the trends of childhood obesity in Kentucky and the impact of childhood obesity on military readiness. Northern Kentucky pediatrician, Dr. Christopher Bolling informed the legislators of the increasing number of children affected by high-cost diseases such as heart disease and diabetes that used to be considered “adult” diseases. Dr. Bolling said Kentucky consistently ranks as one of the worst states, ahead of only Mississippi, with obese children and adults. In addition to quality of life problems, this obesity epidemic also costs employers and the state (the taxpayers) extra insurance costs. He added that the solution is one that needs multiple approaches ranging from individual responsibility, parental and family engagement, and changes in our communities.
Contributing factors to this problem are the lack of physical activity, lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, poor diet choices and cultural habits.I have consistently passed legislation in the Senate to increase requirements for physical activity in the schools only to see it fail to pass in the House. In an effort to make our state more walking and cycling friendly, I sponsored “complete streets” legislation that encourages the creation of walking and bike lanes when roads are resurfaced or created. Working with Kentucky’s county extension and consumer sciences agents, I also sponsored “Second Sunday” legislation that calls for main streets to be closed to car traffic on the second Sunday in October so that families can walk and ride together in their communities. I have been focusing on this issue for the past 12 years and remains hopeful that the legislature will soon address this increasing threat to our citizens’ health.
Next, Dr. Ruth Ann Shepherd from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services spoke on what Kentucky is doing to combat childhood obesity. The 5-2-1-0 Campaign, the SCORE Project and the Farm to School programs are three of the prevention programs in place. Currently, there are 13 schools across the state participating in the Farm to School program which encourages schools to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers. I also encouraged them to consider supporting urban gardening as a way to engage folks in the inner city to grow and eat fresh fruit and vegetables. I have learned about this movement from my son Fritz who was instrumental in creating an urban garden in inner city Charleston, South Carolina.
The Kentucky National Guard’s Captain John Harvey, Sergeant First Class Charles Miller, and Master Sergeant Tommy Caruso were the last to testify at the meeting and they reported that around 12,000 applicants per year do not make it past the first term of enlistment due to fitness. The group referenced Mission: Readiness’ report, “Too Fat to Fight,” which urges community leaders to combat chronic weight problems early. They observed that healthy eating and regular exercise habits need to be embraced early in life and that by the time young men and women reach them, it may be too late. Regrettably, this obesity epidemic is becoming an issue of national security.
The task force will be meeting throughout the interim in preparation for the coming legislative session next January. It will consider the effect on academic achievement for students, including those with learning disabilities, and ways that the legislature may be able to help.
You can reach me with your comments or questions by leaving a message toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or TTY 1-800-896-0305. You can also keep up with legislative meetings via the Internet at www.lrc.state.ky.us.