The Times West Virginian

January 10, 2013

More work must be done to ensure childhood obesity rate keeps dropping

Times West Virginian

— A statewide screening program has noted a drop in childhood obesity rates in West Virginia.

The reason? Officials point to a focus on improved nutrition and increased physical activity in the state’s schools.

According to the report, in the 2011-12 school year, 27.8 percent of fifth-graders screened by West Virginia University’s CARDIAC program were obese, compared to 28.9 percent in the 2010-11 school year.

More good news? The kindergarten obesity rate declined from 17.5 percent to 13.6 percent, the lowest rate in nine years.

And during the same period, the number of fifth-graders with high blood pressure fell from 24 percent to 20.3 percent. Fifth-graders’ abnormal cholesterol rate fell from 26.1 percent to 23.5 percent.

“This is fantastic news,” Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said earlier this week. “We may be at a tipping point for child obesity.”

We hope that’s the case. Because while the report is a bit of good news, we want to see more, especially since, as Dr. Bill Neal, director of the CARDIAC program, pointed out, children with high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and/or obesity are at high risk of future diabetes, heart disease and other costly chronic illnesses.

Fortunately, the CARDIAC program will conduct screenings in 53 of the state’s 55 school systems in the 2012-13 school year.

Of course, the responsibility doesn’t rest solely on the school system. Good nutrition starts at home. So does encouragement to put down the video games and play outside. Even for those students whose only nutritious meals come from the school cafeteria, encouragement can be offered to help them make healthy choices.

And while the numbers from the recent screenings are encouraging, Neal said more must be done.

“This is cause to hope and reason to keep trying,” he said. “If these numbers are still down next year, we’ll know it’s a genuine trend. So this is no time to ease off in our efforts. ... We can’t get complacent. But the numbers are going in the right direction.”

Dr. Neal is right. While we think the state’s drop in childhood obesity rates is a step in the right direction, it’s just that — a single step.

There’s more work to be done. For example, the CARDIAC screenings showed that the second-grade obesity rate rose a point to 24.5 percent during the 2011-12 school year. Certainly other areas can stand to see improvement as well.

Continued efforts for better nutrition, increased activity and even involvement from parents and community leaders must remain a priority so West Virginia’s children can be even healthier.