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Better focus

Fellowship Story Showcase

Better focus

Picture of Kate Long

West Virginia is among the top five on just about every national chronic disease list. The state leads the nation in diabetes and obesity, according to the Gallup Healthways poll.

Surveys show that many West Virginians do not realize obesity is a leading cause of many chronic diseases. Many also feel those diseases are hereditary, and there is nothing a person can do to prevent them.

The state's children raise major red flags for the future. West Virginia University screens thousands of schoolchildren every year. In 2010-11, they found that 24 percent of fifth-graders have high blood pressure, 26 percent have high cholesterol, and 29 percent are obese. Eighteen percent of kindergartners and 23 percent of second-graders are obese.

There has been little public discussion of this problem. "The Shape We're In" project aims to stir up that discussion. Written and photographed by Annenberg fellow Kate Long, it will be divided into three parts in The Charleston Gazette, the state's largest newspaper:

• Children at risk
• Programs that work
• Communities making a difference

Some segments will be accompanied by West Virginia Public Radio pieces.

Part 1: "This is a public health emergency"

Part 2: A growing problem

Part 3: Putting the pieces together

Part 4: Health officials say W.Va. can reverse its chronic disease numbers

Part 5: W.Va. man: diabetes programs work

Part 6: "Get kids moving"

Part 7: Daily activity affordable, Department of Education says

Part 8: Wood researchers: Active kids do better academically

Part 9: Rocking the gym at 7:30 a.m.

Part 10: Nebraska school district lowers obesity rate

Part 11: What happened?

Part 12: 'Everyday heroes' saving own lives

Part 13: W.Va. ranks first in heart attack, diabetes, eight other categories

Part 14: Success from scratch

Part 15: Great Kanawha food fight

Part 16: Better focus

Part 17: W. Va. slammed with sugar

Part 18: Glenda and Jill vs. diabetes

Part 19: This is how bad diabetes can be

Part 20: Recognize diabetes before it's too late

Part 21: Logan hardest hit by diabetes

Part 22: Even if your relatives had diabetes, you don't have to

Part 23: Body and spirit

Part 24: American Diabetes Association is MIA in W.Va.

Part 25: Young people contending with diabetes

Mingo County stages breakfast revolution in schools
Monday, April 9, 2012

KERMIT, W.Va. -- On a chilly morning, at 8:20 a.m., coal trucks rumbled past Mingo County's Kermit K-8 School. Inside, a cook was starting to sear 60 pounds of beef for homemade beef stew for lunch. Another was stirring cornbread batter for 342 kids. A third was starting crust for enormous berry cobblers.

"We're cooking for a lot more kids this year," said veteran head cook Lena Lackey. They're also making food from scratch, five days a week. Yes, she said, it's more work than heat-and-serve, "but it's the only solid meals some of our kids get."

At 8:35 a.m., the seventh and eighth-graders came rolling through the cafeteria line, laughing and jostling, sticking breakfast items in paper bags -- yogurt, oranges or apples, cereal, milk, cheese bread. Not a Pop-tart or doughnut in sight.

The kindergartners ate in the cafeteria. The seventh and eighth-graders took their sacks back to their classrooms, "grab-n-go" style.

"A lot more kids eat, now that we've moved breakfast up to after first period," said Principal Dora Chaffin. "When we served it before school, a lot skipped it because they like to socialize then."

Nationwide, schools with free breakfast for all report greater attention in class, fewer discipline problems, and fewer absent or tardy children.

People who eat a regular, healthy breakfast tend to concentrate better and are less likely to be obese, research shows, partly because they don't overeat as much later.

Mingo County schools are pushing hard to improve school food and, especially, to get more kids eating breakfast because:

• Seventy percent of Mingo children qualify for free or reduced lunch.
• In 2009-10, West Virginia University found that 28 percent of Mingo fifth-graders have high blood pressure and 36 percent -- more than one in three -- are obese.
• There is not one grocery store in the entire county.
• One in five West Virginia homes sometimes didn't have enough food in 2011, according to a new report from the Food Research & Action Center study.

Down the hall, breakfast was being delivered to the fifth-grade classroom. Aides rolled a cart into the classroom, packed with breakfast choices.

All the children ate. A visitor asked, "How many of you would not have eaten breakfast if you weren't eating at school?" All but two raised their hands.

"The kids are focusing a lot better during lessons since this started," their teacher, Annette Martin, said. "They aren't sitting there thinking about being hungry."

More meals, more money

In August, state Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple challenged all school systems to try at least one new way to get more kids to eat school breakfast. Forty-five counties pledged to try. "It just makes sense," Marple said.

Mingo County and six other counties are also serving every child free this year as part of a statewide demonstration project. They are trying to cook less fattening meals five days a week from fresh ingredients.

"In the coalfields, it's not always possible to get all the fresh ingredients," Maynard said, "but we're managing to have fresh fruits and vegetables every day."

The percent of Mingo students eating breakfast has soared from 36 percent to 78 percent, compared with 2010, a 118 percent increase. Lunch eaters have jumped from 68 percent to 75 percent. 

Related Story: The Research — Regular breakfast helps you lose weight, concentrate

Breakfast and obesity

Research shows that, if people eat a healthy breakfast -- not Pop-Tarts or doughnuts -- they are less likely to become obese, because they are less likely to snack and overeat at lunch. A protein-rich breakfast increases a person's ability to focus and concentrate, research shows.

People who usually eat breakfast are 35 to 50 percent less likely to be obese and diabetic than those who usually do not. About 47 percent of whites and 22 percent of blacks say they eat breakfast. CARDIA study, about 3,000 participants, 2003.
In a 15,000-participant, study, the risk of becoming obese was shown to be 34 percent greater in those who skipped breakfast. The International Journal of Obesity, 2010.

Americans recognize - but ignore - the importance of breakfast

Eighty five percent of Americans agree that eating breakfast is important, but increasing numbers of Americans say it is too hard to find the time.

Breakfast and concentration/performance in school

National study published in Indian Pediatrics shows regular breakfast increases concentration, attention in schoolchildren

Tufts University study shows increase in attention and memory retention in schoolchildren who eat regular breakfast. Effects were greater in children who ate oatmeal, compared with those who ate commercial cereal. So what children eat for breakfast has effect too. Similar studies have shown that egg breakfasts have more beneficial effect than muffin breakfasts.