Montgomery County's Health Commission is recommending that the county track student obesity and put more nutritious snacks in vending machines, as part of officials' latest efforts to make county residents healthier.
The Health Commission also told the County Council that the county should provide more opportunities for exercise for children and adults, and establish better accommodationsfor mothers who are breast-feeding.
"We wanted to focus on [issues] with easy implementation," said Commission Chairman Marcos Pesquera, adding that the group looked at multiple government agencies that could benefit from the recommendations.
One of the more detailed plans is to start tracking students' body mass index at certain grade levels to analyze obesity trends. BMI, calculated from a person's weight and height, is often used as a screening tool for potential weight problems.
Though BMI has been criticized as a method of determining obesity, Pesquera said it is effective in spotting trends.
"Admittedly, it's not the most effective way [to measure obesity]," Pesquera said. "It will help us create a baseline to see where we are at."
Last week, the county began rolling out vending machines with healthier snacks, including Popchips instead of Doritos and water instead of Pepsi. Pesquera praised the effort; his commission is recommending that machines include low-fat, healthier snack options and that the county establish nutritional guidelines for them.
Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large, co-chairman of the council's Health and Human Services Committee, said the council will consider the recommendations.
In 2007, Montgomery passed a ban on the use of artificial trans fats in chain restaurants and all food service facilities, including schools and hospital cafeterias, becoming the first county in the country to do so.
The county also is considering expanding its smoking ban. The Health Commission has recommended the county ban smoking in front of stores and at shopping centers and advocate for an increase in the state tobacco tax. Maryland prohibits smoking in enclosed public places.
"This is a really good commission," Leventhal said, adding that measuring BMI would be a good way to gather data about youth obesity rates. "The more information we can get, the more we can really start looking at the problem."