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Veto of sugary drinks bill hinders the fight against childhood obesity

By Sen. Carlos Uresti and Rep. Carol Alvarado

Perhaps the most commonly accepted tenet of a successful society is that children need the wisdom and guidance of adults. This is a shared responsibility that applies to all institutions — the family, religious practice, the advancement of society through personal witness, and, particularly, public education.

It is greatly disappointing, therefore, that Gov. Rick Perry exercised his option to veto House Bill 217, which would have banned the sale of sugary drinks in Texas public schools.

Considering the epidemic of childhood obesity that is plaguing our state, the governor's action means that sugary drinks will have a better chance of making it through our schools than some of our children.

Under House Bill 217, students at elementary and middle school campuses would be restricted to water without added sweetener, 1% fat-content milk, fluid milk substitutions, 100% vegetable juice or 100% fruit juice. High-sugar and high-calorie drinks, major contributors to the obesity crisis, would not be available for sale.

In his veto message, the governor said he supported reasonable measures to improve the health and wellness of Texas students through nutrition, but that HB 217 "takes this effort to an unreasonable and unnecessary extreme..."

We respectfully disagree. The act would not apply when school is not in session, before the breakfast period, or after the last class period, and students could still bring any drinks they prefer from home, preserving the right of parental choice.

In addition, HB 217 did not represent an unfunded mandate on Texas schools. And given the mandates the state does impose — on everything from course requirements to curriculum choices to physical education — it simply does not follow that HB 217 is "unreasonable."

And it is certainly not true that the measure is "unnecessary."

According to a 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control, 15.6 percent of Texas children are overweight and 13.6 percent are obese. A separate CDC report said the obesity rate in Texas increased more than 80 percent over the last 15 years, making Texas the 12th most obese state in the country.

Good health practices should begin at an early age, but that's hard to do in a society where sugary drinks are so pervasive. HB 217 would have greatly helped students make better health decisions by limiting access to these drinks in our schools.

By choosing small-government ideology over sound public policy, Gov. Perry has retreated from the fundamental social concept that adults have a duty to impart their wisdom and experience to uninformed children through the institution of school. Sadly, it's the tradeoff here that's "extreme" and children come out as the losers.

The governor's veto of HB 217 quashed a great opportunity to help secure the health and well-being of Texas schoolchildren for years to come.

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