A research team at West Virginia University says the state’s schools have made substantial progress in helping students adopt healthy behaviors. But there is still room for improvement. Their evaluations of the first year of the West Virginia Board of Education’s school nutrition standards, and the second year of the Healthy Lifestyles Act, show that most schools are taking action.

“The combination of these policies for nutrition and physical activity make West Virginia one of the most progressive states in the country when it comes to addressing childhood obesity and related issues,” Carole Harris, Ph.D., said. “But some schools continue to struggle to provide the mandated physical education because of inadequate staffing, facilities, or both.”

Harris and Drew Bradlyn, Ph.D., are both professors of Behavioral Medicine & Psychiatry and directors of the Health Research Center at the WVU School of Medicine. They presented their findings in Charleston at a meeting attended by First Lady Gayle Manchin and state health and education officials about the West Virginia Healthy Lifestyles Act of 2005.

Harris said schools have made substantial progress. She noted improved participation by students and schools in health education and fitness testing; however, Harris pointed out that about 40 percent of schools are unable to meet one or more of the five mandates in the act. Student physical activity and physical fitness have declined in a statistically significant measure.

The act’s mandates require schools to administer fitness and health education assessments, to offer a certain number of minutes of physical education each week, and to measure the body mass index (BMI) of children to serve as an indicator of progress.

Bradlyn said the state’s adoption of West Virginia Standards for School Nutrition in 2008 has made a difference, even though some schools said the new policy was a challenge to implement.

“Students are making changes in their dietary behavior. They’re consuming more milk, more fruits and vegetables than the year before, but it’s still not enough,” Bradlyn said. “There has been a small but significant drop in soda consumption since the vending machines are no longer in the schools.”

The report recommends that schools and communities strengthen their relationships and work together to improve the nutrition and physical activity environments for children and families.

To carry out the evaluations, Bradlyn and Harris surveyed school principals, parents, students, health teachers, school nurses, school superintendents, physical education teachers and healthcare providers. In addition to WVU, three state offices worked on the project—the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health Office of Healthy Lifestyles and West Virginia Department of Education Office of Healthy Schools and Office of Child Nutrition.

The evaluation project was part of a $1.5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

For more information about the WV Healthy Lifestyles Act, and the Health Research Center at WVU, see http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/hrc.


For More Information:
Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087