Texas has one of the highest rates of obesity in the U.S., with a 30% rate of obesity (BMI >=30) among adults aged 18 and over (in 2009) and a 16% rate of overweight among high school students (in 2007).  Substantial disparities in overweight and obesity in Texas exist, with higher rates among populations of color and those with lower socioeconomic status.  Individual health choices and behaviors–including dietary habits and physical activity, the primary proximate behavioral determinants of obesity–are profoundly shaped by the policies and environments in community settings, which vary drastically by both race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has recently been awarded American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to implement policy and environmental changes to prevent obesity in the United States.  The primary objective of this funding is to provide states with the support to develop state-wide policy and environmental change to support healthy living (obesity prevention and tobacco prevention).

DSHS is implementing a high-impact policy, social and environmental change model to prevent and control the chronic health effects of tobacco use and obesity by addressing the following five Centers for Disease Control required and evidence-based strategies known as MAPPS: media/communications; access/availability; point of purchase/promotion; price; and social support and services. DSHS Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention Program (NPAOP) within the Section for Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention and the Division for Prevention and Preparedness will work to develop 2) statewide utilization of schools as central community access points for fresh fruits and vegetables and safe places for free physical activity.

NPAOP staff will lead project activities throughout the 24-month funding period through collaboration with other lead state agencies including the Texas Education Agency, Texas AgriLIFE Extension Service, Texas Department of Agriculture and the Health and Human Services Commission’s Office for the Elimination of Health Disparities to 1) facilitate joint-use agreements that will permit community access to free, safe physical activity and recreation facilities on school grounds outside of school hours; 2) establish a school-based fruit and vegetable direct access initiative such as Farm to School, Farm to Work, school-based farmers’ markets and/or community gardens; and 3) foster a statewide infrastructure within community neighborhoods with schools that offer a safe and supportive physical activity environment using the Walk Across Texas program to establish walking clubs.

NPAOP is also producing an interactive web-based community action tool: Plan Healthy, Texas: Texans Putting Prevention to Work. This site will act as an online interactive advocacy tool for Texans. Among its other uses, Texans who visit the site will tentatively be able to input key information (i.e. county, school/worksite/community-at-large, etc…) and will be able to develop their own or their community’s own strategic plan to prevent obesity in accordance with the intent of the ARRA Communities Putting Prevention to Work funding opportunity, the Texas Strategic Plan for the Prevention of Obesity, and other socio-ecological factors specific to Texas.