Giving healthy choices
Childhood obesity being attacked on many fronts
By Mike Bowen
Times West Virginian
FAIRMONT — The battle against childhood obesity in West Virginia is no secret.
So much so that the acting surgeon general of the United States — Dr. Steven Galson — made the state his first stop back in March to announce a national initiative to combat the growing problem of overweight children.
The state is tied with Kentucky for the highest percentage of overweight children in the country.
Nationally, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled from 1980 to 2004 — from 5 percent to 17 percent.
West Virginia and Kentucky sport a 24 percent rate of obese children.
In the past two years, Marion County schools have been doing their part to make the next generation of West Virginians a little bit healthier.
“It has to be attacked several different ways,” Mary Weikle, physical education teacher at East Dale Elementary, said. “One is to work with the children so they learn to understand how important activity is. You also have to make sure that the information doesn’t go just to the children, but to the families as well.”
Weikle has seen her position as a physical education instructor change in the past five or six years to focus more on wellness than on “just rolling out the balls,” as she said.
“It has definitely swung in recent years,” Weikle said. “With the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) giving all the reports on obesity, more emphasis has been put on it.”
Weikle employs several approaches in her classes at East Dale to keep her students on the right path.
One of the newest additions is the video game “Dance Dance Revolution.” East Dale also sports a climbing wall, according to principal Diane Burnside.
The video game, where players perform choreographed dance moves on a mat on the floor, has been hailed as the newest weapon in the fight against childhood obesity.
East Dale is one of hundreds of schools across the country that has incorporated the blood-pumping video game into the physical education curriculum.
“I’ve been teaching a long time, and I can look back and see how things have changed,” Weikle said. “What was good five or 10 years ago can be made better today. We use a lot of different things than just basketballs now.”
Weikle said the state has committed funding for instructors to continue to learn new programs and techniques.
“I’m actually a director at the Health and Physical Education Resource Academy,” she said. “The state provides many opportunities to continue to learn and foster new teaching techniques.”
Weikle credited the Marion County Board of Education and East Dale’s principal for allowing her to attend various workshops to help better her class.
“We’ve really put an emphasis on it,” she said. “Our principal does a lot to promote wellness in the school. Mrs. Burnside has done a lot to foster wellness at East Dale and has helped me a lot.”
One of the dangers of childhood obesity is the development of Type II diabetes.
Type II diabetes accounts for more than 90 percent of diabetic cases in the United States, according to the CDC. Type II is also preventable. Children who are overweight or don’t get much exercise are more at risk for developing the disease than those who exercise, eat healthy and maintain a normal weight.
While the focus is more on Type-I diabetes, Jayenne Elementary will be holding a walk to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as part of the school’s “wellness week” on May 21.
“While we focus on Type-I, we make sure to inform the kids on Type-II as well,” said Tina Moroose, organizer of the walk and parent of a daughter with Type-I diabetes. “We make sure they know about exercise and eating right. It’s (Type-II) is just a really horrible thing. We really hit on that as well.”
Other schools are doing their part to foster wellness among the student body.
West Fairmont Middle School will be holding a bike ride for wellness on May 29. Rivesville has a jump-rope program, and Fairview Middle now holds walk-a-thons twice a year.
And the future holds an even more focus on wellness, according to Weikle.
“Starting next year, when you are looking at phys ed from pre-K through fourth grade, the core concept is wellness,” she said.
While the school systems are emphasizing wellness, parents are also a major source of influence when it comes to the battle against childhood obesity.
Brian Floyd, culinary-arts instructor at Fairmont State University and parent of 7-year-old twins, stresses exercise and good decisions to his children.
“We’ve been diligent about not being complacent and letting them sit in front of the TV,” he said about his children Hannah and Michael. “They play soccer. They ride their bikes, play outside with the dog. Anything to get them up and moving around.”
He also tries to emphasize to his students at FSU about the importance of a varied plate and eating in moderation.
“You have to give kids healthy choices,” he said. “We’re not the healthiest eaters in the world, but if all you have to snack on is a bag of potato chips, then that’s what the kids are going to eat.”
Floyd said he thinks the school system is doing a good job with the way it is handling wellness, but knows that it is also the parents’ job to keep up at home.
“They do a good job, but as parents, we have the rest of the time they are not in school,” he said. “It’s the parents’ jobs to keep up the work and offer healthy alternatives and make good decisions about snacks.”
The culinary-arts program at Fairmont State has offered classes on healthy eating and cooking, according to Floyd.
He said that he stresses to his students about offering a complete, healthy plate.
“I think it’s part of their responsibilities as future chefs to offer that to customers,” he said. “We try to focus on making a balanced plate ... make sure there are proper vegetable portions, proper protein portions ... .”
As coach of his children’s U8 Marion County Youth Soccer Association team, Floyd helps reinforce the need for exercise in his family as well as their teammates.
“That’s the key,” he said, “getting out and staying active. We have to take responsibility to keep our kids healthy. That’s our jobs as parents.”
And while the battle rages on across the country, does Weikle think the war on childhood obesity is winnable?
“It has to be,” she said. “If we don’t do something about this, it makes it harder and harder to change. These kids will eventually become adults and parents. If we can get them on the right path now, it helps the next generation and the next.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, children are considered obese if their age- and gender-specific body mass index is equal or greater to the 95th percentile of the CDC’s body mass index (BMI) charts.
Interactive BMI calculators are located at the CDC’s Web site, www.cdc.gov.
Galson’s new Childhood Overweight and Obesity Prevention Initiative consists of six programs that give people the right knowledge, the right tools and the right encouragement to stop childhood overweight and obesity problems:
• The National Institutes of Health’s We Can! program — which assists communities in their efforts to encourage their children to maintain a healthy weight.
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s School Health Programs to Prevent Obesity and Overweight — which helps schools reshape social and physical environments to promote healthy lifestyles.
• The Food and Drug Administration’s Using Nutrition Facts Labels to Make Healthy Food Choices — which uses entertaining, targeted advertising to help children and adults understand food labels.
• The Indian Health Service’s Together Raising Awareness for Indian Life — which helps tribal children and youth make healthy lifestyle choices.
• The President’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sports’ National President’s Challenge — which calls all Americans to commit to physical activity at least five days a week.
• The Administration for Children and Families is implementing its new Head Start Playground Initiative — a grant program to help Head Start programs develop community playgrounds. This new program is enabling Head Start to establish community playgrounds where children need them the most.