Summer in Texas is now in full bloom. Unfortunately, many children will spend their free time not on swings at playgrounds but in front of televisions at home, consuming hours of programming full of advertisements for unhealthy foods.
Others will spend time on the Internet instead of playing outside with their friends. This lack of physical activity among our youth is contributing to an American healthcare crisis: childhood obesity. We must work together to reduce the harmful influence that inactivity can have on our kids, and promote healthy living that is vital to their long-term well-being.
Texas ranks sixth nationally in the percentage of obese youth (ages 10 - 17), and many of these children are at risk of significant health problems, including Type 2 Diabetes. Since 1990, the number of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in our country has jumped 15-fold. This is extremely troubling because diabetic children face lifelong medical problems.
Fortunately, a number of broadcasters and corporations are taking steps to foster healthy and active lifestyles. They are demonstrating that they are willing to be part of the solution.
The Walt Disney Company is phasing out the use of its characters in promotions that market unhealthy products, and it is developing shows that demonstrate the benefits of exercising and eating well. Nickelodeon, one of the national networks for youth, has an initiative called "Let's Just Play," which inspires young viewers to be more active.
On the network's annual "Worldwide Day of Play," it suspends programming for a block of time so kids can go outside and run around. I hope that Texas parents will help me support the continuation and expansion of these efforts.
Broadcasters in our state are also creating initiatives that nurture wholesome living. Many of these endeavors are community-based and address physical, nutritional, and mental health.
This is a good start, but there is much more that can be done to curb the epidemic of childhood obesity. We can help shape the content of the shows our children listen to and watch by encouraging media companies, broadcasters, and marketers to air responsible programs and advertisements.
Finally, a foundation for healthy habits must be reinforced at home. In the 2008 Farm Bill, I created an elementary school pilot program that invites parents to become involved in nutritional education along with their children. This initiative is modeled after the very successful Coordinated Approach to Child Health Program which helped significantly reduce the number of overweight fifth grade students in El Paso.
By using the major influences in a child's life - from parents, to teachers, to their favorite television characters - we can help reverse childhood obesity.
We can all be part of a national movement to cultivate positive lifestyles and good health that young Americans can carry into adulthood.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.