As some legislators in Texas have learned, presenting unassailable data on childhood obesity and the need to change state law may not hold sway without buy-in from colleagues. Legislators often balk at the cost of health initiatives and physical fitness programs for schools and communities, even though the cost of these programs is insignificant compared with the costs that will be incurred if the trend of childhood obesity is not reversed.
Childhood obesity does not resonate as a cause with some policymakers, perhaps because they find the idea of addressing the problem unattractive or the consequences too distant. Linking the problem to broader, more familiar issues, such as education and economic development, appears to be an effective approach. For example, Comptroller Combs’s efforts to quantify the cost of obesity to Texas businesses have been highly influential in bringing about policy change. Focusing on short-term versus long-term outcomes also appears to be more persuasive among legislators given the nature of political cycles and the desire to influence constituents.
Policy makers who spoke with the committee stressed the importance of placing childhood obesity prevention within the framework of education. Whereas a number of policy makers view health as an expenditure, they view education as an investment. Indeed, many legislators strongly believe in the need to invest in education, so forging a link between education and obesity prevention could help in securing funding for the anti-obesity cause. Such a link also facilitates a systematic approach to change by involving all public schools, which in turn allows for sustainability.
To extend anti-obesity efforts beyond its schools, Texas is offering incentives to businesses to institute workplace wellness centers. Such programs already established in a handful of Texas businesses have realized benefits in the form of fewer inpatient hospital admissions, reduced absenteeism, annual insurance savings, and reductions in health care costs, thus yielding a positive return on the workplace wellness investment. These employers have recognized that having a healthy workforce that is ready and able to work improves the fiscal bottom line.
Texas has also implemented programs to encourage healthy behaviors among its state employees. These programs include time off for physical activity, physical education programs that occur during business hours, and delivery of farm-fresh food on site. In addition, state employees can obtain discounts for walking and running shoes at certain stores, and all city facilities offer showers and bike racks. Leaders within the state legisla-