Thursday, February 10, 2011

Testimony to NE Legislature in support of Children's Health Advisory Committee LB125

[I testified at Legislative hearing 2-10-11 in favor of the bill because I believe it would further Coordinated School Health. NDE, NCSA, School Boards' Association were neutral.  Dr. Karla Lester of Teach A Kid To Fish, Dr. Bob Rauner, and others also testified in support, representing NE Dietitians and American Heart Association and others. Text of my testimony today.]

Good afternoon, Senators, distinguished committee members, my name is John Skretta and that is spelled J-O-H-N S-K-R-E-T-T-A. I am testifying in support of LB 125. I am a doctor but in the interest of total disclosure, I confess I am not a medical doctor but merely a doc of Education so I'll leave the dispensing of actual medical advice to Rauner and Lester and those inescapable pharmaceutical ads on TV!

I am the Superintendent of the Norris School District . As an administrator at Norris, I have had the privilege to promote our schools’ attempts to deliberately integrate physical activity during the student day, increase the nutritional value of our food service program, institute fitness testing at all levels in our Physical Education program, and monitor Body Mass Index grade level data. We report this information to our Board and we share information about these initiatives to our district through newsletters and wellness council meetings. We support our staff through providing professional development opportunities in these areas.

We intend to keep moving forward. My belief is that the legislation in front of you today provides desperately needed positive mojo for student health. To put it another way, we need LB125 to increase the muscle mass behind the healthy schools movement and help all schools in NE including ours to do the heavy lifting required to really institute best practices.

I speak to you today as a school administrator and parent. I’ve got 2,050 kids in my charge and four boys of my own in that mix. We are bombarded with messages about food that is cheap, accessible, and readily available but without a sound nutrition education curriculum that is integrated in schools we have risked becoming a nation of junk food junkies. By the way, have you tried the extreme cheddar burst Cheetos twists? Delicious!

We have achieved a higher standard of living than any nation at any time in history, yet our children’s life expectancies are for the first time lower than those of the previous generation because of decreases in physical activity and increases in sedentary screen time. We need to make sure we are being prudent in our approach in schools to help students think and act critically to take charge of their own healthy lifestyles.

LB 125 is good legislation. It addresses a significant social need and some might fairly say (and the CDC has declared it thus) a public health epidemic, and it does so through a collaborative, consensus-building manner by instituting a committee that is process driven and results-oriented.

Making this legislation a priority and emphasizing the importance of healthy school environments through a coordinated school health approach is not frivolous. It is not spendy. It is not a ‘deterrent’ from what is important and essential. Until student’s health needs are met and schools work with communities and we institute statewide reform to address this, we are not going to see the student learning out comes we all desire.
Key considerations in support of LB 125:
  • Extends and allows us to actualize the intent of the Student Health mandate. The legislature mandated student health policies. Now is the time to help us move from policy adoption to practical implementation by the work of the proposed advisory committee.
  • Measurable results. Are we about measurability and performance, or not? We broadcast test scores in the cores, we demand fiscal transparency from schools, we examine every demographic facet. Yet when it comes to a basic Student Health Index and profoundly important data like BMI, we are systematically choosing to ignore it. In doing that, we risk telling kids and communities: health doesn’t matter.
  • Real health care reform. Talk to anyone in insurance. The best cure is prevention. You want to drive costs down for the Medicare reimbursements our state cannot afford to sustain? Prevention. It starts with empowering kids with good information and building a statewide approach through the advisory committee.
  • Accountability. We are living in an era of unprecedented focus on results. You’ve already made us responsible and accountable for everything from anti-date-rape curriculum to anti-bullying to a springtime testing extravaganza. Hold us accountable for doing our part and for partnering up with health care professionals to promote healthy school environments. There is nothing overbearing in that. It’s basic and attainable, with your support.
Thank you.