Jorea Marple, West Virginia's superintendent of schools, spoke with the Sunday Gazette-Mail for "The Shape We're In," a series of stories about obesity, chronic disease and improving West Virginia's health. Here are some excerpts of her comments.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "I grew up in Sutton, in Braxton County. People cooked from scratch then.
"Do you remember the first Swanson dinner? We all bought it. Lord knows it was awful. But we ate it because nobody had to do anything for it.
"But you know, kids were a lot more physically active then. I didn't come home till dark. I played hard. I was a little overweight. I'll admit that. I ate a lot, too. My mother made pies every day.
"But I was out running around. Everyone was out running around, so we burned off those calories. And we walked farther to get the school bus.
"We grew gardens and ate a lot of vegetables in the summertime. For three months, our standard menu was green beans, cottage cheese, tomatoes and corn on the cob.
"I lived in Sutton, but my dad always grew a garden, so we had lots of stuff and got lots of stuff from different people. There just wasn't processed food.
"I've always been a big believer that, in public education, you need to want for all children what you want for your own children. You have to look at that whole child and all the learning needs of that child.
"No Child Left Behind says we're going to fix reading and math. Well, if you're going to fix that, you have to ask: Is this child well? And healthy? And ready to learn? Those things affect the child's performance on reading and math.
"What children eat makes a difference in their cognitive focus and in their wellness.
"I get tickled at WESTEST time, when people want to feed all the kids free so they'll do better on the test. Children need to eat breakfast every day, not just when they take the test, if we want them to do better.
"When we talk about learning, we have to talk about the nutritional needs of the children. We need to talk about their physical acuity, if we want them to be mentally acute."
"You also have to think about the quality of relationships between the adults and children in a school. Kids accept messages about wellness and nutrition if those messages are presented by people they believe care about them.
"There was a recent Harvard study of 309,000 adults. The researchers looked at whether or not those adults had a strong, positive relationship with somebody else. If they didn't, they were 50 percent more likely to die early. They also found that they were more likely to suffer from dementia.