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Rep. Morrissette seeks Interim Study focused on Oklahoma’s nutrition challenges

State Rep. Richard Morrissette
State Rep. Richard Morrissette

Staff Report

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, has submitted an Interim Study request, asking for time, opportunity and resources to study state priorities and efforts to combat poor nutrition among Oklahomans.

In a press release sent to The City Sentinel, the veteran legislator said, “With headlines this month alone announcing, ‘Inmate medical costs handcuff jail,’ and ‘Mental health transport crisis – back of police car not the way to take Oklahoman’s to treatment,’ and ‘Destined for Failure – current public school problems can damage a generation’s future,’ what has been obvious to so many of health professionals for so long must now – finally – resonate with our policymakers.”

Rep. Morrissette supports “front end” prevention efforts to improve nutrition access for Oklahoma’s infants and children.

He contends the state is at a breaking point, “set to self-destruct, for continuing with short sighted, inane, ‘back end’ patching that bleeds the state budget dry.”

Morrissette scoffed at those who say hunger is a “distraction” for students. “Children who experience even brief periods of under-nutrition “are at-risk of becoming at-risk learners – and they are not distracted, they are permanently disabled,” he said.

“Why can’t one of our ‘off-the-top’ state budget priorities be nutrition insurance for our children?

I’ll tell you why: because generations of adults who were undernourished as children are now overburdening our jails, mental institutions, unemployment and healthcare systems; consequently, we don’t have a dime left for prevention,” Morrissette continued.

Recently, Minnesota Rep. Kim Norton established the State Pathways to Prosperity Subcommittee on Hunger and Nutrition.

The motto of committee members is “feed the body before feeding the mind”.

Below is a summary/outline, provided by Rep. Morrissette, of his 2015 Interim Study proposal:

Budget Impact – Inadequate Nutrition and its Role in Poor Brain Development during Pregnancy and Infancy: neuro-psychological problems, poor school achievement, early school dropout, low-skilled employment, higher rates of incarceration and adults’ poor care of their own children, thus contributing to the inter-generational transmission of poverty and Oklahoma’s budget shortfall.

Adequate nutrition for pregnant mothers and infants is necessary for normal brain development.

Pregnancy and infancy are important periods for the formation of the brain, laying the foundation for the development of cognitive, motor and socio-emotional skills throughout childhood and adulthood.

Children with restricted development of these skills during early life are at risk for later neuro-psychological problems, poor school achievement, early school dropout, low-skilled employment, and higher rates of incarceration and poor care of their own children, thus contributing to the inter-generational transmission of poverty.

This study would outline the physical process by which brain pathways diminish and disappear as a result of even brief periods of under-nutrition among child populations, as well as a by-the-numbers review of the resulting impact to community resources and to the state’s budget shortfall.

The study also would identify solutions, such as free and available nutritious foods, the cost of not tackling food waste logistics, and processes by which Oklahoma schools might become after-hours redistribution points for charities donating fresh foods directly to parents, now that House Bill 1418, the Josephine Meade Anti-Hunger Act, and joint-use legislation, have both been passed into law by the Oklahoma Legislature.

Presenters at the interim legislative study would include Pediatric Nutritionist Kimberly Bilger.

House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman, R-Fairview, received 122 requests from Republican and Democrat Representatives alike.

Hickman said last week said he will announce by July 10 which studies he has authorized.

Committees will meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from August through November, to study the issues that are approved.

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