CARDIAC has been screening in the schools statewide since 1998. "High blood pressure" means the child's blood pressure is higher than 95 percent of children in a national sample.
• In the 2010-11 school year, 24 percent of fifth-graders screened had high blood pressure, one in four. In 2011-12, that dropped to 20.3, one in five.
• In 2010-11, 26.1 percent had abnormal cholesterol. In 2011-12, that number dropped to 23.5 percent, a 10 percent decrease.
• The fifth-grade obesity rate edged down from 28.9 to 27.8 percent.
The kindergarten obesity rate dropped from 17.5 percent of children screened to 13.6 percent, which puts it below the national average.
The second-grade obesity rate climbed a point, to 24.5 percent of children screened. "We'd like to bring that down too," said Rick Goff, director of the state Office of Child Nutrition. "The drop in the other numbers shows us we can."
In 2011-12, while the numbers were dropping, the school system was increasing physical activity and improving the nutritional quality of meals statewide. School cooks in 26 counties were trained to cook from scratch. Processed food served in the schools dropped sharply, Goff said.
Then-Superintendent Jorea Marple spearheaded a statewide push to get kids more physically active. "She deserves a lot of credit for that," Neal said, "and I'm happy to hear the new superintendent will continue the push."
"I supported it as a county superintendent and will support it as state superintendent," new superintendent James Phares told the Gazette-Mail.
Increasing numbers of parents are also becoming aware of the health risks of obesity, inactivity and junk food, said Stephen Smith, director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. "We've done 42 community meetings statewide, and children's health is a top priority everywhere. People keep saying kids need to be outside instead of sitting in front of screens."
Neal credited the media for stirring up public conversation and awareness.
"This is very good news," said Delegate Don Perdue, chairman of the House Health and Human Resources committee. "Whatever productive things we've been doing, we need to continue to do them."
"When we see the  numbers, we'll know if we have a sustained trend," Neal said.
Fifty-three of 55 school systems are signed up for CARDIAC screening this year.
Reach Kate Long at 304-348-1798 or katel...@wvgazette.com.