Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


August 11, 2013

A growing problem — Obesity numbers mounting for W.Va.

— A slow but steady rise in obesity rates among West Virginia’s children should be viewed as a warning and a call to action for health care and education officials across the region.

West Virginia was one of 43 states and territories surveyed as part of the four-year study by the Centers for Disease Control on obesity rates in low-income pre-schoolers. And the Mountain State was one of 21 states where the CDC found “little or no change” in obesity rates over the four-year study period.

The study also found obesity rates among West Virginia pre-schoolers measured at 13.5 percent in 2008, dropped to 13.4 percent in 2009, rose to 13.7 percent in 2010 and rose again to 14 percent in 2011. Virginia was not one of the states surveyed.

Area officials believe the childhood obesity rates may be caused by unbalanced diets and a lack of exercise.

“Unbalanced meals and eating too much of the same thing are big issues,” Pam Reid, director of School Nutrition Programs for Mercer County Schools, said. “Eating a variety of foods — especially fruits and vegetables — is essential to a good diet. Exercise is also key. You have to burn the calories you consume. Research seems to show children are a lot less active today. They are more likely to stay on the computer, watch TV or play video games than go out and play or participate in after-school activities.”

The school system does try to incorporate physical activity either outside, or in the gym, as part of an average school day. Reid says childhood obesity rates has led to stricter rules on what children can be served both during the school day and as part of school programs. She also correctly emphasizes that once children leave school, it is up to their parents to keep enforcing healthy eating and exercising rules.

Chemicals in much of the food children are served can also impact weight, according to Judy Bolton, RN, a public health nurse with the Mercer County Health Department.

“A lot of this could be related to the additives in food,” Bolton said. “It’s not just the amount of food eaten but the amount of preservatives and chemicals in that food. High fructose corn syrup actually makes you carve sweets and is frequently found in many foods these days.”

The health department is correctly warning that obesity in childhood can lead to serious health issues in adulthood, including high-blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

The study also concluded that one out of every eight preschoolers in the U.S. is obese and children who are obese are five times as likely to develop high cholesterol, high blood pressure, asthma and mental health issues. Additionally, obese children are five times as likely to become obese as adults.

One thing is clear: Childhood obesity rates in West Virginia are not improving, and it’s a problem that requires prompt attention. Educators, health-care officials, lawmakers and parents must all become a part of the solution. And they should be working together now to address the findings of this latest report.

It is imperative that we take steps today to ensure that our children are healthier tomorrow.

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