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New survey assesses Texas legislators’ views on obesity prevention

Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., R.D.

Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., R.D.

AUSTIN – (March 6, 2014) – Results from a new survey show agreement among Texas lawmakers when it comes to their perceptions of prevention and control measures to address childhood obesity. The 2013 Texas Health Perception Survey was conducted as a collaborative effort between the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health.

Eighty-three Texas legislators or their aides, representing both political parties and legislative chambers, responded to the survey during the most recent Texas legislative session. Sixteen legislators provided additional information through interviews administered in-person with the legislator or with an aide speaking on their behalf.

“Learning about the opinions and attitudes of the Texas Legislature can help inform us and other stakeholders on strategies to effectively communicate relevant scientific findings, or further areas of research,” says Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., R.D., principal investigator and director of the Michael & Susan Dell Center at The University of Texas School of Public Health, part of UTHealth.

Most legislators agreed with the statements “Much can be done to lower the incidence of childhood obesity,” and “Schools can have an effect on childhood obesity.”  In addressing childhood obesity, legislators responded that the largest role should be played by parents and families, followed by individuals, health care providers, and communities.

When asked about specific prevention and control measures, the highest levels of support were seen for coordinated school health programs that increase physical activity, improve nutrition and teach children the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices. Legislators also recognized a need to increase access to healthier food, specifically fruits and vegetables, and to educate parents about childhood obesity and healthier eating habits for their children.

“Legislators were consistent in emphasizing education and parental/family responsibility, as well as focusing on schools and early childhood education as being important in preventing obesity,” says Diane Dowdy, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Rural Public Health.

The survey results were presented today in Austin at a University of Health event hosted by The Texas Public Health Coalition. 

The survey was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and supported by an advisory committee that included the Texas Medical Association, Texas Hospital Association, Texas Health Institute and the American Heart Association.  The 2013 Texas Health Perception Survey report can be downloaded at tcoppe.org.

About the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living

The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living was founded in 2006 with a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to The University of Texas School of Public Health. The Center was established to conduct research to better understand and influence behaviors and environmental conditions that affect healthy living, with a vision of “healthy children in a healthy world.” The Center is housed at the UT School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus, which is part of UTHealth.  For more information visit www.msdcenter.org

About the Texas A&M School of Rural Public Health

Texas A&M Health Science Center is transforming health through innovative research and education in dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health and medical sciences. A unit of Texas A&M University, the health science center serves the state through campuses in Bryan-College Station, Dallas, Temple, Houston, Round Rock, Kingsville, Corpus Christi and McAllen.

 -Written by Brooks Ballard, Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living Communications

Hannah Rhodes
Media Contact: 713-500-3030