September 17, 2015

Suicide Prevention and Childhood Obesity Regulations

There is more to being a legislator than meets the eye.

Certainly, everyone knows we write bills and vote on them to make laws. Those laws and those debates get most of the headlines, and for good reason. And most people know that we advocate on behalf of our constituents when they need help navigating the government bureaucracy.

Another legislative action that tends not to get much attention is passage of resolutions. Just like bills, legislators write and debate resolutions. However, unlike bills, resolutions do not carry the weight of law. Because of this, resolutions tend not to garner much media attention. But that doesn’t make them unimportant. Resolutions often affirm the position of the entire Senate or Assembly. For example, just this week, the State Senate passed two of my resolutions highlighting two important issues in our society, childhood obesity and suicide prevention.

You probably remember as a child being told to “clean your plate,” which often required you to finish all those vegetables that you didn’t want to eat. You’ve also probably seen a chubby baby and thought how adorable they are. I mean, who doesn’t want to pinch the cheeks of a cute fat baby?

The question becomes at what point does chubby become a health factor? We know for sure one in three American children are overweight. This can lead to snoring and bad sleep, high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes and much more. Moreover, if not addressed properly this can lead to adult obesity. Poor eating habits learned as children carry on into adulthood and that has led to Wisconsin being 22nd in the nation in adult obesity.

I know we Wisconsinites enjoy our cheese and craft beer and I’m not saying you can’t enjoy your food. But Wisconsin’s obesity rate is nearly 30 percent and that’s a statistic we should all strive to reduce. Obese children are more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. Healthier bodies lead to healthier outcomes and that is why I authored a resolution naming September Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

Another resolution we passed this week also names September as Suicide Prevention Month. A few months ago, a story reported by Fox 6 News stopped me in my tracks. The reporter said, “This story is about young people in Wisconsin who are killing themselves.” I stopped everything I was doing and watched as the story unfolded. My television screen filled with photo after photo, child after child of all races and backgrounds. These beautiful people were from Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee counties who, for one reason or another, took their own lives. Dozens upon dozens of kids are taking their own lives, one as young as 11-years-old. This year alone, 7 young Wisconsin kids killed themselves and even more have tried it.

Cameron Langrell, a 15-year-old freshman at Holick High School prompted my resolution after he hung himself earlier this year. In the past 5 years, Milwaukee County is home to 33 suicides by people 19-years-old and younger. We can’t sit back idly while kids attempt suicide. For every kid who dies of suicide, 11 others attempt to take their own lives. Another staggering statistic is that in 2013, the Department of Health Services reported that 853 Wisconsinites ended their own lives. 

In Wisconsin, Latina girls are twice as likely to attempt suicide amongst high school students and even though more white children kill themselves, students of color are more likely to try. Thirty-five percent of girls who kill themselves had problems with a relationship and 13 percent were recently sexually assaulted.

Some might argue that resolutions are pointless because they don’t carry the weight of law. But if just one parent reads this guest column or hears about my resolutions and does something about their child’s obesity or pays a little extra attention to the warnings signs of suicide as a result of my resolution, it will have been well worth it. The future is bright with everyone in it. So, if you know a child struggling with obesity or depression, please refer them to the American Heart Association’s tips for preventing childhood obesity (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/HealthierKids/ChildhoodObesity/Preventing-Childhood-Obesity-Tips-for-Parents-and-Caretakers_UCM_456118_Article.jsp) or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.