Thumbs up: Childhood obesity rates decline in W.Va.
Health experts have been sounding the alarm about rising childhood obesity rates in our region for more than a decade.
But despite the national news reports and television shows, the numbers continued to climb.
Finally, we have some encouraging news.
Each year, West Virginia University's CARDIAC (Coronary Artery Risk Detection in Appalachian Communities) program screens elementary school students for weight and early signs of diabetes, and recent results show some improvement. For the 2011-2012 school year, 27.8 percent of fifth-graders were found to be obese, down from 28.9 percent in the 2010-2111 school year.
The percentage with high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol rates also declined.
"This is cause to hope and reason to keep trying," Dr. Bill Neal of the CARDIAC program told the Charleston Gazette last week. "If these numbers are still down next year, we'll know it's a genuine trend. So this is no time to ease off in our efforts."
Neal, a Huntington native who has been tracking student health since 1998, stressed that the levels for obesity and high blood pressure are still alarmingly high. But at least the numbers appear to be going in the right direction.
Schools in Cabell County have put a tremendous focus on making cafeteria offerings healthier, and Cabell cooks have helped train other food service workers around the state in "scratch" cooking and reducing the use of processed food.
Many schools also have increased student exercise, and the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition reports that parents seem to be getting the message as well, encouraging healthier diets and more activity after school.
It appears those efforts are paying off, and hopefully that success will encourage even more commitment in schools and at home.