The Times West Virginian

Opinion

June 11, 2014

Marion schools addressing problem of child obesity

It’s no secret that the childhood obesity rate is on the rise.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says childhood obesity has more than doubled over the past 30 years.

The statistic is even more alarming here in West Virginia, where 35.5 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 fit into the medical definition of “obesity,” compared to the national average of 31.6. The state ranks 44 out of 50.

Thankfully, there are programs in place geared toward reversing that trend.

Consider the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s Coronary Artery Risk Detection in Appalachian Communities Program, also known as CARDIAC. For 16 years, that program has been used to measure the body mass index of second- and fifth-grade students annually to track students’ obesity rates and health status, including their blood pressure, blood lipid profile and evidence of preliminary stages of diabetes. It’s the largest comprehensive screening program of its kind for school-aged children in the country, and it’s screened 183,241 children in West Virginia.

Past CARDIAC screenings show that the obesity rate among second-graders participating in the program has increased from 17.6 percent in 2005-06 to 20.9 percent in 2013-14. At the fifth-grade level, the obesity percentage in the first year was 24.8; now, it’s 22.3. So even though it’s dropped slightly, it’s still higher than it is in second grade, which means things are getting worse as students get older.

Here in Marion County, students who have their parents’ permission are tested each year in school. That’s because education officials take seriously the risks the CDC reports obese children are more likely to face, including risk factors for cardiovascular disease, bone and joint problems, and sleep apnea. In addition, once the risks are identified, officials can work harder to prevent them from happening.

That’s done in a variety of ways, explained Marion County Superintendent Gary Price.

“Not only do we comply with the guidelines as far as required phys-ed and required child nutrition, but we also try to take an active role in trying to provide additional opportunities for physical activity and trying to help with providing not only nutritious meals but nutritious snacks when they’re available,” Price said.

The effort will continue in the next school year when the Marion County Board of Education kicks off its Farms to Schools initiative in the spring. That program will allow schools to buy produce, meats and eggs from local farms for lunches. Schools also try to limit students’ carbohydrate intake to avoid going over their recommended daily consumption, and they help curb overeating by discouraging children from having second helpings of food if they’ve already had plenty to eat.

The schools themselves have also been offering more family programs, like Blackshere Elementary’s Family Fitness Night. The programs are educational and help encourage parents to be physically active as a family and provide healthy lunch and snack options for their children outside of school.

“The main things those do is try to raise the level of awareness that adults need to set the example,” Price said. “Students do need to be physically active, but they often reflect the same exercise and food selection choices that their parents do. If the parents bring home chips and pop instead of juice and vegetables, then that’s what the kids will have to eat.”

We know the childhood obesity rate won’t decrease overnight. But a joint effort between parents and schools should help get the ball rolling in the right direction.

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