CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia must invest now in programs to promote wellness and physical fitness in children -- or pay the long-term health-care costs for another generation of overweight adults, a state senator told colleagues Tuesday.
"It is going to take an investment in dollars, and a commitment from the governor and Legislature," Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, said during an interim committee meeting on student wellness.
"It's an investment now to bring these numbers down, or we're going to pay over the years for obesity issues," he said, referring to an update on childhood obesity figures presented by West Virginia University professor Eloise Elliott.
WVU's CARDIAC program has been conducting statewide health screenings of kindergarten, second-, fifth-, and eighth-grade students statewide since 1998, and the 2012 results found that 46.5 percent of all fifth-graders in the state are overweight or obese.
"By fifth grade, about 50 percent of our kids are overweight or obese and have at least one risk factor for heart disease," Elliott told the committee.
She said the causes are not surprising: Lack of physical activity, too much sedentary time in front of television or computer screens, and an unhealthy diet including too many sugary soft drinks.
"If we could do one thing to reduce childhood obesity, we would get rid of all soft drinks," she said.
While the numbers are discouraging, Elliott said there are some encouraging signs, noting that the percentages of overweight and obese fifth-graders have leveled off after peaking at 49.6 percent in 2009.