Parents have the freedom to make informed decisions around quality of care

According to America After 3pm, more than 880,000 young Texans participate in before- and after-school programs, and that non-classtime is poised to shape healthy youth development. It happens in all kinds of settings, many of them registered as childcare under the auspices of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services

Earlier this year, the Texas State Alliance of YMCAs attempted to survey licensed providers to better understand what was happening outside of schooltime in Texas and to identify avenues to enhance the quality of care for Texas youth. Their goal was to allow the data to tell the story of developing youth. In addition to the quantitative data collected via survey, qualitative interviews were conducted with a small sample of licensed providers to gain a more thorough understanding of their programs.

The survey yielded responses from over 1,000 sites throughout the state that, based on program provider capacity, potentially represented over 93,000 youth. It was astonishing to know that the vast majority of the providers were already implementing standards around healthy eating and physical activity. Those early implementers should be recognized as trailblazers in their efforts to support healthy living among youth.

The most notable results were that 98 percent of programs provided opportunities for physical activity, 70 percent served fruits and vegetables at every meal/snack and 89 percent believed that parents would be interested in highlighting health and nutrition in the programs. Also, 84 percent expressed interest in participating in voluntary health recognition programs that could arm parents with information to make decisions about the quality of out-of-school care that best suits their families.

There is an opportunity in Texas to focus on the role that these providers play in promoting wellness and shaping our youth, and a benefit to recognizing for licensed providers that are committed to promoting evidence-based standards.

By encouraging these providers to implement healthy eating and physical activity practices similar to national standards, the state can proactively teach healthy behaviors to young Texans now instead of waiting and then attempting to reverse the effects and costs of unhealthy lifestyles later down the road.

A voluntary recognition program will position Texas as a pioneer in implementing quality health standards in out-of-school programs, and Texas could be the first southern state to champion such an effort. A voluntary recognition program can help curtail the rise in childhood obesity by fostering lifelong principles of healthy eating and physical activity outside of school instruction time. Most importantly, parents should have the opportunity to make sound decisions for their children when it comes to choosing out-of-school providers.

Eddie Lucio III, Texas State Alliance of YMCAs

Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, is a Texas state representative from House District 38. He is chairman of the House Committee on Rules & Resolutions.