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Cabell schools help to fight youth obesity

January 14, 2008
by Bill Rosenberger
Herald-Dispatch

The battle to promote healthy diets through schools is intensifying in West Virginia, a state that fares poorly in most health studies, with a new ban of the sale of caffeinated beverages in schools and plans to eliminate salty and sugary snacks next year. In the 2007 report from Trust for America's Health, West Virginia overtook Alabama as the second-most obese state among adults, less than one percentage point behind Mississippi. For youth ages 10 to 17, West Virginia is ranked second as well, just behind the District of Columbia. "Obesity is definitely an issue here and in our nation," said Dr. Harry Tweel, director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. Many students are likely getting their one hot and nutritious meal each day from school. 52 percent of Cabell students receive a free or reduced lunch and breakfast, and some local officials believe dinnertime in some households is junk food if any food at all. That would be consistent with the Trust for America's Heath report, which listed West Virginia as tied for seventh in states with the highest poverty rates. That also puts added responsibility on schools to provide healthy and filling meals. "School-based programs have been shown to have the potential to yield positive results in preventing and reducing obesity," the report stated. "Children spend large portions of time at school, and in before- and after-school programs, and often consume two meals and snacks in these settings." According to the report, less than half of all states have nutritional standards for school meals, with West Virginia among those that don't. But, West Virginia is one of 22 states that have nutritional standards for competitive foods sold a la carte, in vending machines, in school stores or in bake sales. West Virginia also was one of 23 states to receive funds in 2006 to support the Centers for Disease Control's school health program that encourages behaviors to help reduce students' risk of obesity

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