The Times West Virginian

October 26, 2013

Childhood obesity is recognized as key issue

Multiple steps being taken to address problem

By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Childhood obesity has been recognized as an issue within the state of West Virginia, but multiple steps are being taken to try to improve the problem.

West Virginia Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said that finding ways to decrease the prevalence of childhood obesity will enable our children to become healthier adults.

“Our state has ranked in the top three for childhood obesity for the last couple of years,” Fleischauer said. “The good news is there’s been at least some leveling off. 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.”

Fleischauer, along with Delegate Clif Moore and Mercer County Superintendent Deborah Akers, recently attended a workshop in Colorado to discuss the issue of childhood obesity.

Together, Fleischauer, Moore and Akers identified five ways to take action: 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, promote healthy communities and include more healthy foods on school menus.

According to Fleischauer, the Cardiac Program, a statewide intervention program that has been in place since 1998, has been instrumental thus far in combatting the issue.

“I think the Cardiac Program is really important,” Fleischauer said. “It’s been very influential in turning things around in the right direction.” 

Fleischauer said addressing childhood obesity must be a multi-faceted approach in order to be effective. As outlined in their plan, policy makers also strongly believe in providing students with more time for physical activity during the school day.

“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.” 

Two graduate students at West Virginia University, Andrea Cain and Lauren Prinzo, are currently conducting research in schools in Marion County to determine how resources and facilities available to students have an impact on their quality of physical activity and/or the likelihood for childhood obesity.

“We wanted to look at factors that affect obesity,” said Cain, a master’s student in exercise physiology. “One of those factors is definitely environment, and school is the environment where kids spend the majority of their time during the day.”

So far, Cain and Prinzo, a master’s student in public administration, have conducted site visits and surveys.

“We’re going to analyze which policies we believe are working and also look at what schools are lacking to see if there are any trends,” Cain said.

Cain and Prinzo will compare the results of their study with the performance of students on the national fitness test to determine if there is a correlation.

“Hopefully this will be a key for educators to look at making recreational equipment available and making improvements to facilities that are necessary for children to stay healthy and lead healthy lifestyles,” Cain said.

As Cain and Prinzo move forward with their study and hope to expand it to other counties throughout the state, Fleischauer said she and her team will continue to move forward with their efforts as well.

“I’m sure there will be legislation on this for the regular session,” she said.

Email Kaylyn Christopher at kchristopher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.