ANNAPOLIS – A package of five child obesity bills was slimmed down to two after House committees gave three of the most ambitious measures an unfavorable recommendation.
Delegate Joan F. Stern’s bills to impose nutrition restrictions on school lunches, increase time requirements for physical education and create health insurance mandates for obesity services were axed, while an advisory council and a study of student behavior survived.
Stern said she expected that high costs would doom the bills, but filed them to prompt debate.
Revenue from school lunch programs would slightly decline with the nutrition guidelines, but local expenditures to hire physical education teachers would have increased from $23.3 million to $46.6 million in fiscal year 2007, according to cost estimates in the bills.
“I’m really disappointed about that, because it was a question of whose budget it comes out of,” said Stern, a Montgomery County Democrat. “It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a system to look at the consequences of not doing something.”
Getting a handle on child obesity would decrease health care costs in the long run, said Stern, who pointed out that obesity increases risk for diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Stern is pleased her main bill establishing an advisory council to study prevention methods and report to the Legislature next year passed the House, 127-9.
“That was the primary bill we really wanted, because it is the key to developing a long-range plan for Maryland.”
Her second bill to implement the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey was given a favorable report in the House Ways and Means Committee. The survey will open federal funding for the state, Stern said, noting that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was turned down for two grants worth $10.4 million because the state lacked statistical data on obesity.
An insurance bill that would have included services for the prevention, treatment, and counseling of youth obesity under child wellness plans offered by health insurers was knocked down by the House Health and Government Operations Committee.
Stern’s nutrition program laid out standards for school meals. For example, high-sugar beverages such as soda and foods with more than 35 percent of their calories from fat would have been outlawed as part of school-provided lunches. The bill was defeated by the Ways and Means Committee.
“If our kids haven’t had nutritional education, and their parents haven’t had nutritional education, then the whole family is learning to eat by watching the television,” said Linda Goldsholl, a Montgomery County public health nutritionist, at a news conference. “I think we’re seeing the results of that.”
The physical education program, also defeated by Ways and Means, required an hour of activity per day for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. The activity could be in school or as part of an approved out-of-school activity.
“If you go back 100 years ago, young people walked five, eight miles a day,” said former professional basketball player and former U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen, D-Maryland, who signed on to support Stern’s physical fitness bill. “Today, they barely walk a few blocks.”