The U.S. Center for Disease Control indicated that in 2010, 32.5 percent of West Virginians and 29.2 percent of Ohioans were obese. Those traits have evidentially passed on to our youngest generations and could lead to serious lifelong issues. Renee Griffin, a registered dietitian and the child nutrition and wellness coordinator for Ohio County Schools, said she already is seeing negative health impacts from childhood obesity. “I’ve seen such a huge increase in the amount of diabetes cases among children,” she said, noting the rise could lead to more cases of early kidney disease and cardiovascular issues. Aside from diabetes, she added there is higher likelihood of physical limitations and heart attack later in life. Some lesser effects she noted were increased risks of arthritis and joint problems. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in its most recently published data from 2008, showed 16.9 percent of U.S. children and adolescents are obese — or having a Body Mass Index more than 30. From 1988 to 1994, that number was at 10 percent and, from 1971 to 1974, it was 5 percent. “It’s scary that this may be the first generation not to outlive their parents,” Griffin said, citing a study. The International Journal of Obesity and several health-based publications have speculated that the rising childhood obesity rate will result in a higher number of children not living longer than there parents. Griffin said genetics play “a big factor” in causing obesity in children. While that fact cannot be controlled, she said making healthier living more appealing to children could reverse genetic inheritances and prevent new cases. Ohio County Schools over the last few years has made “significant changes to the breakfast and lunch menus,” Griffin said. She said the schools have been using whole grains and foods having more fiber, because they are known to keep people fuller longer. To match with state regulations, she added that food choices have fewer calories and lower sodium and fat contents than what was available less than a decade ago. Fresh fruits and vegetables are often added to meal packages. For example, classic school cafeteria options, such as pizza and tacos, contain less salt and fat and have whole grain crusts, shells and bread. Two local schools — Madison and Ritchie elementary — are participating in West Virginia’s “Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.” The once-a-week activity engages children in new, healthy flavors. Two recent foods children could try were steamed edamame and seedless cucumbers. Marie Farnsworth, a kindergarten teacher at Ritchie, hosts “Fruity Friday” for her students and, on Feb. 3, most of her students were completely eating grapefruit slices and, at times, asking for second and third helpings. “There’s no obesity in this classroom,” Farnsworth said, noting none of her 20 students were above average weight. Aside from exercise promotion in health and physical education classes, Ohio County Schools recently started offering a “Nutrition and Wellness Club.” Griffin said there are “things on the horizon,” such as opportunities for outdoor classrooms and more after-school activities. Griffin noted, though, that encouragement cannot just stop in the classrooms, but must extend to parents. For that to work, parents need to encourage their children to eat healthy, turn off the video games and get outside.
Ritchie Elementary School kindergarten student Alta Bledsoe, left, teacher Marie Farnsworth and student Keohn Stephens bite into a grapefruit during “Fruity Friday,” which encourages healthier diets for young children.