Texas Health Groups Call on State to Improve Child Care Nutrition Standards

Partnership child care release.png

October 12, 2016

For Immediate Release

Contact: Peter Clark512-473-2274

AUSTIN – This week a coalition of over 50 Texas organizations called on the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to improve child care nutrition and physical activity standards, explaining that proper child care policies are a key ingredient in an effective state strategy for combating childhood obesity. As part of the rewrite of Texas child care standards that occurs once every six years, DFPS is finalizing the new standards for child care centers in the state.

“If Texas wants to cut health care costs, help students succeed in the classroom, and ensure more kids reach their potential, we need to put young children in a position to develop a healthy weight and healthy habits,” said Dr. David Lakey, chairman of the Partnership for a Healthy Texas, the coalition urging DFPS to take action. “Child care centers are a key member of the team for helping kids start off healthy and stay healthy.” Dr. Lakey previously served as the Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services and currently serves as Chief Medical Officer and Associate Vice Chancellor for Population Health at the The University of Texas System.

In its comments to DFPS, the Partnership for a Healthy Texas explained the importance of child care centers to children’s health:

Child care providers play a valuable role in the health and safety of young children. They ensure kids have the essential building blocks for healthy growth, brain development, and learning so they can succeed in school and the workplace. In particular, a positive early learning environment where our youngest kids receive nutritious foods and develop healthy eating and physical activity habits helps kids build strong bodies and strong minds. Being physically active and having a healthy diet before the age of five is associated with improved child development and cognitive outcomes, including higher school achievement and better reasoning skills.

The Partnership’s comments to DFPS also highlighted the challenge of unhealthy weight in early childhood in Texas:

About one in twelve 2-to-5 year olds are obese. While this challenge is present in all Texas communities – rural, suburban, and urban – some Texas children are at a higher risk. Nearly one-third of two- to five-year-olds (31 percent) from low-income Texas families participating in the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program are either overweight or obese.

“Parents can’t always be there to decide if the snack is cookies or carrots or if it’s time to watch a movie or play tag. Parents need child care providers to be strong partners in supporting healthy kids,” explained Adriana Kohler, Senior Health Policy Associate at Texans Care for Children, a member of the Partnership for a Healthy Texas. “Preschoolers who are overweight or obese are five times more likely to be overweight or obese adults. Fortunately, if parents, child care providers, policymakers, doctors, and others all pitch in, we can help children develop healthier weights and healthier habits.”

On Monday, DFPS concluded a month-long process of collecting public input on its draft standards. The agency’s proposed standards maintain past requirements but fail to incorporate new evidence-based recommendations on child nutrition and physical activity.

The Partnership urged DFPS to take action in four key areas:

  • Strengthen existing nutrition standards by including guidelines for children under age one and adopting key national best practices for children’s nutrition, such as limiting the amount of 100% fruit or vegetable juice served, not serving desserts to satisfy the requirement to serve grains, and limiting the amount of sugar in servings of yogurt:
  • Require child care centers to update their “Activity Plans” to include outdoor play at least twice a day with both structured and unstructured play;
  • Limit time watching TV or other electronic devices to no more than 30 minutes per week and only when children are not eating meals or snacks; and
  • Include lessons on child nutrition and active play in the required training for child care teachers.

DFPS is expected to publish the final standards for child care centers in the coming months. The new standards will take effect March 1, 2017.

The Partnership's full comments to DFPS are available here.