How can West Virginia have a problem with childhood hunger and childhood obesity at the same time?
It's a question that comes up repeatedly as county school systems begin to carry out the Feed to Achieve Act approved by the Legislature earlier this year.
Really, hunger and obesity are two sides of the same problem.
"What's happening is they're getting the calories, but they're not getting the proper calories," Mingo County Schools Superintendent Randy Keithley said of students recently.
Of course, many adults know intimately how this works. People who are watching insulin resistance or diabetes know their bodies react differently to an egg compared to toast. And how many adults trying to drop weight shun the calories in soft drinks or pizza crust in favor of those in lean meat and broccoli?
It is the same for kids, except children are still growing; they are expected to learn, behave and perform on command all day; and to a large extent, they don't control their schedules or what food is available to them.
That's one of the reasons I was so pleased to see the Feed to Achieve Act pass. It is not enough to tell kids to choose foods that are best for their bodies. One must create opportunities for children to discover and enjoy those foods. The new law enables school systems to accept donations for projects to help feed hungry children. That's a nice thing, and at least one donation has come in -- $1,000 in Berkeley County.
But the more significant part of this law requires county school systems to adopt alternative methods of serving meals that will get more young people eating.
"This conveys to our children that breakfast and lunch is an integral part of the school day," says Rick Goff, director of the state Education Department's Office of Child Nutrition. "It's not an interruption. It's part of the educational process."
Grown-ups might take a bit longer to soak up that message. Today's working adults, after all, were conditioned from their own school days to see mealtimes as interruptions. Demands of work easily reinforce that attitude.