Improving Children's Health is In All Our Hands
Growing up in Compton, California has had a big impact on my life. My neighbors were raised around gang violence, drug abuse and limited access to food that didn't come wrapped in paper or a styrafoam container. The cards were often stacked against us and the statistics were not in our favor to live a long and healthy life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans live 8.3 years less than other Americans, develop heart disease 30% more often, comprise 49% of all new HIV infections and suffer from diabetes 70% more than other ethnic groups.
With numbers like these, combined with the economic challenges communities throughout South Los Angeles have faced for decades, you would most likely have found me waiting in the halls of a health clinic rather than serving in the halls of the State Capitol--had it not been for my family's commitment to my health and well-being.
Even with a limited budget and six children to feed, my family made it a priority to serve fresh fruits and vegetables; often relying on the garden in my backyard to fill our plates at meal time. Unfortunately, in spite of California's agricultural bounty, families throughout the state struggle to provide their children with healthy food options as evidenced by the explosion of obesity and diabetes rates among young people.
Whether it is due to a lack of access to healthier food, particularly fresh produce, or the often higher cost to purchase fresh produce; these barriers have significantly contributed to the obesity and diabetes crisis.
Since my election to the California State Assembly, I have made a commitment to help reverse the increasing rates of obesity and diabetes among young people. Earlier this year, with the help of Speaker Karen Bass, I introduced AB 1488 to address issues of 'food justice' in California.
Although California remains a world leader in the production of fresh fruits and vegetables, these foods continue to be financially out of reach or just plain hard to find in urban poor and rural communities. AB 1488 will encourage partnerships between agricultural producers and small businesses or non profit organizations to expand upon successful urban farm stand programs, farmers markets and other market driven approaches to increase the availability of fresh produce. Additionally, this measure will seek to utilize recent federal stimulus funds to further simplify federal food stamp and WIC programs, thus making healthier food purchases more affordable for low income Californians.
While the ultimate decision of whether a family serves healthier foods lie with the parent or guardian, encouraging the marketplace to further expand access to fresh produce is good for our economy and good for the long term health of our children.
Childhood obesity is a preventable disease. Whether a child is from Compton or Crescent City, all children should have access to healthy foods. Parents from South Los Angeles to South Lake Tahoe should have the same tools to make better food choices for their children. With increased access to fresh produce and healthier foods, we can reverse the dangerous trend of obesity among children.
This past spring, I created and currently serve as Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Child/Adolescent Health and Safety. This committee is tasked to address a range of issues affecting child and adolescent health and to identify legislative solutions to these problems.
Last month, the Committee held an informational hearing on how best to help children manage their diabetes while at school. Building consensus among students, parents, teachers and healthcare providers is a vital step to help these children and I am confident that we will be able to find solutions to keep these students safe and successful in the classroom.
Even with the severe budget challenges that face us, there are important steps we can take to show leadership, support the marketplace and encourage healthier lifestyles for our children. Higher rates of obesity and diabetes hurt everyone and will have lasting negative impacts on our families, our economy and an already overwhelmed healthcare system. Together, we can reverse this dangerous trend and give our children the tools they need to lead healthier lives.
Isadore Hall, III serves as the Assistant Speaker pro Tempore, representing the 52nd Assembly District in the California State Assembly.