The Times West Virginian

October 27, 2013

Focus on health, physical activity critical in fighting childhood obesity

Times West Virginian

— Data shows that 35 percent of children in West Virginia are considered obese. That’s one out of every three children in the Mountain State.

And we’ve got to do better.

The Child Policy Research Center reports that 35.5 percent of children ages 10 to 17 in West Virginia fit into the medical definition of “obesity,” compared to the national average of 31.6. The state ranks 44 out of 50.

But it’s not about how we rank against other states. In fact, this is a national epidemic, and we’ve got to take some key steps to figuring out how to stop this crisis in West Virginia and beyond.

We believe there’s a good start here, however. Lawmakers are investigating the issue in the hopes of creating policy and law to encourage the time spent at school to have a focus on health and physical activity.

“It’s a big culture change that we need to work on and make sure that we don’t run into this enormous catastrophe when children get older and encounter things like diabetes and heart disease that come with obesity,” said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, who, along with Delegate Clif Moore and Mercer County Superintendent Deborah Akers, recently attended a workshop in Colorado to discuss the issue of childhood obesity.

Working together, the group came back with five action-plan items.

• Strengthen the Cardiac Program in West Virginia.

•Allow breakfast to be eaten in the classroom and be counted as instructional time.

• Increase the amount of time dedicated to physical activity during the school day.

• Improve healthy communities.

• And include more healthy foods on school menus.

But there’s a definite balance that you have to find when boosting physical activity in the school system.

“We’ve made some changes that have had an intended positive effect, but there have also been some negative effects,” Fleischauer said. “For example, we’re trying to improve the emphasis on science, reading and writing in schools for improved test scores, but that has probably meant less recess time. We need to increase the time children are spending on physical activity.” 

But early intervention is key, and unfortunately, poverty, poor education and other socioeconomic issues prevent parents from being armed with the information to promote healthy habits, an active lifestyle and proper nutrition at home. School programming is key to helping those children.

Because, after all, the children of today are the adults of tomorrow. And an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To combat obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more for future years, we’ve got to start today.