Child obesity levels hold steady in West Virginia

July 23, 2014, The Herald-Dispatch

One of the early signals that West Virginia was developing a child obesity problem came from the work of Huntington, W. Va., native Dr. William A. Neal. For the past 16 years, Neal has been checking the weight and health of elementary school students in the state through the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s CARDIAC Project.

Neal began to raise concerns more than a decade ago, and… in recent years, West Virginia has been the vanguard of a national crisis of childhood obesity.

But this year’s research shows some signs of progress, according to a report in the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram.

The state’s obesity rate among fifth-graders has remained steady at 28 percent, and there have been some declines in the prevalence of hypertension, indicators of prediabetes, and some cholesterol levels. That likely indicates an improvement in diet, and changes in school lunch programs could be a factor.

“It could be the elimination of trans fat and processed food the state implemented several years ago,” Neal told the newspaper. “The school nutrition programs are infinitely better than they were 10 years ago.”

The new standards not only affect school breakfasts and lunches but also cover vending machine snacks and the food served at school parties.

But it is not all good news. The obesity levels are still very high, especially in many poorer counties, and the data indicate the level of children’s physical activity has not improved.

So there is still plenty of work to do, but it is encouraging to see that changes in the school meal programs [are likely] having an impact.

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