AUSTIN -- The medical director of a children's health advocacy group said a recent move by the state agriculture commissioner to reverse a 10-year ban on deep fryers in schools sends the wrong message to kids.
In addition to the deep fryer ban reversal, state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller also relaxed restrictions on certain soft drinks at Texas schools on Thursday.
Miller said schools needed more flexibility, but Stephen Pont, medical director of the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity and a pediatrician at Dell Children's Medical Center, said these moves put children in an increased risk of obesity.
"I'm concerned and worried that that may have bad health consequences for our Texas kids," Pont said. "The district can choose not to [install deep fryers], but my fear is that schools that feel more stressed financially or don't yet fully understand keeping kids healthy, that those are the districts that I think are at risk."
Pont said he wants to change the agriculture commissioner's mind.
"I would love to help him find other ways to do it, absolutely," Pont said.
Pont said while childhood obesity is a huge problem, community efforts slightly lowered childhood obesity in Austin in the past few years. The city's obesity rate lowered to 30 percent from just above 30 percent.
Pont also serves as medical director for the Austin Independent School District. AISD said it won't install fryers or soda machines in any of its campuses. Instead, it will continue to encourage students to eat healthier.
Several parents said they already face problems planning healthy meals.
"There is sugar in everything these days," said Liz Nguyen, the mother of a 2-year-old boy, who is expecting another baby boy in two weeks. "It's really hard."
She said adding soda and fried foods at school will make that even harder.
Pont said that's why he is trying to educate school districts on new data that show healthy kids do better at school. They even attend school more, studies show.
His goal now is to show school districts other ways to raise funds, without going back to sodas and deep fryers.
Pont also said Dell Children's will release a new app next week called "Choose Healthier" that will help connect people with community health events.
Below is a list of resources to help school districts: