Foster said society has made it "terribly complicated" for today's children to understand the importance of healthy food and exercise, with fast-food restaurants and a dependence on technology continuing to increase. But recent efforts have gotten health information into schools, teaching students healthy lifestyles at a very young age, regardless of whether they're learning it at home, he said.
"As long as they're exposed to good, nutritional meals early on and there is some consistent, credible messenger who helps them understand they need to get regular exercise, kids will see that by doing simple things, they'll feel better, look better and perform better in school," Foster said. "They'll have more fulfilling lives in almost every case.
"The same thing is happening here to an extent that happened with the country's past efforts. Kids were the ones telling their parents not to smoke. They were the ones reminding Mom and Dad to put on their seat belts," he said. "Hopefully, now they'll be the ones getting them to eat healthy."
At the top of Foster's list to promote healthier lifestyles is legislation to curb the consumption of soft drinks, and he suggests increasing the prices of sugary drinks and dropping the cost on water and other healthy beverages.
"If there's one thing we can do, it's to get [children] to stop drinking soft drinks. People don't realize how that has dramatically changed calorie consumption in the last 30 years," he said. "We've made various efforts to get them out of schools, but we need to work on some general public policy. We're trying to figure out how to do that."
One of those "credible messengers" that Foster says West Virginia kids need is Brandon Perry, a 25-year-old youth counselor at the YMCA who encourages the students in his after-school programs to eat healthy snacks, stay away from the TV and play more sports.
"For some of these kids, it's an uphill battle. They're going to have to be the ones to take it to their parents because their parents aren't leading healthy lifestyles. I only get to see them about three hours a day, but I hope they're building healthy habits," Perry said. "The best thing you can do is lead by example. That's why I don't sit and watch them play -- I get out there and play with them."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.