"We know that 33 percent of teen mothers do not finish high school, and girl babies born to teen mothers often become teen mothers themselves." They live in poverty and have serious health and emotional issues more often, she said. One in five babies is born with exposure to drugs or alcohol.
Next, the wellness specialists may tackle obesity. If so, they will help communities create opportunities for physical activity and help schools incorporate more physical activity into the children's day.
Marple reminded the audience that at least one in four West Virginia fifth-graders are obese, as measured by West Virginia University. One in four have high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol.
One in three young West Virginians is now predicted to develop diabetes. "That is preventable," she said. "We've got to get these young people moving!" she said. "It's starting to happen. I've seen kids doing Zumba first thing in the morning. I've seen teachers who get kids up and moving after 20 minutes of sitting, to keep them focused."
Marple praised dozens of West Virginia schools that cooked from scratch this year. "We've got to get rid of the processed foods," she said. "The West Virginia Board of Education has adopted the strongest nutritional guidelines in the nation, but we've got lots more to do."
"We can't fix public education issues without thinking about the whole child," Marple said. "For way too long, we have thought that, if we simply do reading and math all day long and we drill and practice, it will turn out well for everybody," she said. "I don't think it works that way. We cannot tear the kid into individual pieces and only concentrate on what they might not be good at doing."
"Everybody is needed to solve these problems," she said. Adults need to encourage kids, model healthy behaviors and find ways to help kids be active. "If we work together, we can do it," she said.
The KidStrong Conference continues at the Civic Center today with sessions on school health services, physical education and wellness.
Reach Kate Long at katel...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798. This story was written with the help of the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.