AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers had a message for some of the state’s youngest students Tuesday: Stop drinking sugary drinks.That’s why the Texas Senate gave final approval — with little debate — to a measure that would prevent public elementary and middle schools from selling sugary drinks at school during school hours.“We need to start taking some proactive steps if we are going to get our arms around childhood obesity,” said state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. “This is a great step in the right direction to get healthier kids.”House Bill 217, approved on a 24-6 vote, now heads to Gov. Rick Perry for approval.The proposal requires schools to only sell water without sweetener, milk with a fat content of 1 percent or less, 100 percent vegetable juice, 100 percent fruit juice and some fluid milk substitutions allowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.High schools are not affected by the bill.Local officials say the measure won’t have a major impact in Fort Worth.“Foods of minimal nutritional value, such as sugary drinks, are already excluded from our campuses during the school day,” said Clint Bond, director of external and emergency communications at the Fort Worth school district.This proposal is part of ongoing legislative efforts to curb childhood obesity in Texas.Overall, Texas is the 12th most obese state in the country, according a study by the Trust for America’s Health.And a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 15.6 percent of Texas adolescents are overweight and 13.6 percent are obese.“In the United States, one out of three children is overweight or obese and highly caloric drinks are a major contributor to the epidemic,” according to a House Research Organization report on this bill. “Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugars in an adolescent’s diet and can greatly increase their daily caloric consumption.“Schools are in a unique position to help children make healthy and nutritious choices.”Some opponents have said the measure is too restrictive because it prevents schools from selling some drinks that are healthy, such as 2 percent or whole milk. Others have said it should be more restrictive and prevent the sale of drinks such as chocolate milk.“While the problem of childhood obesity is serious, it should be solved with local and family-based solutions, rather than state mandates,” opponents have said, according to the HRO report. “While the bill would represent a step in the right direction toward curbing obesity rates and improving health outcomes, the bill could do more to tackle this problem.”This measure comes after some other proposals in Texas and throughout the country — such as proposals to boost the tax on sodas — have failed.This year, HB 217 has drawn support from the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Beverage Association, the Texas Pediatric Society and the Texas Merchandise and Vending Association. Opposition came from the Texas Conservative Coalition.Now Uresti, who unsuccessfully carried this bill last session, said he’s waiting to see how Perry weighs in on the issue.“So far, it’s looking good,” he said.If Perry signs the bill, it would go into effect Sept. 1.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley