5:22pm

Fri April 26, 2013
Health and Welfare

West Virginia Pushes for Breakfast Programs in Schools to Improve Health

Breakfast has been said to be the most important meal of the day, and it can be important in fighting obesity. Policymakers in West Virginia are pushing for breakfast food programs in schools through public-private partnerships, and a new report says similar programs could save $41 billion in federal dollars long-term by preventing obesity. Does this make sense, and does it make sense for Kentucky?

Like West Virginia, Kentucky has a high obesity rate among middle and high school students but has many children who don't always get the food they need to live a healthy life. Kentucky ranks fourth highest in food insecurity among children because 23 percent of Kentucky's children do not always know where they will find their next meal, according to Feeding America’s "Map the Meal Gap" study. (Here's a link to its interactive map, where you can see food insecurity rates by county in order to find out more about your county. One example appears below; orange dots are headquarters of regional food banks.)

 


A recent bill passed by West Virginia lawmakers addresses the problems of food insecurity, obesity and education simultaneously and serves as the first example for a statewide public-private funding partnership to improve school meals programs, reports David Gutman of The Associated Press. The bill would also require every county to set up a fund to collect private food donations.

The bill aims to require every school to have breakfast food programs so no student goes without it because of costs, says Gutman. Poor nutrition and diet are sometimes issues of cost and income level since healthy foods can be more expensive than unhealthy ones. For example, a bag of 10 apples may costs $4.99, but a package of Little Debbie oatmeal creme pies could be $1.79. A medium-sized apple has 93 calories and less than 1 gram of fat while an oatmeal creme pie has 318 calories and 13 grams of fat.

What does this have to do with obesity? The research-based logic is that a healthy, daily breakfast improves diet and can replace sugary alternatives such as donuts. Eating a healthy breakfast also improves education by combating hunger and aiding concentration and has been found to be associated with overall health and mental functioning. Overall, these factors may work together to improve education and diet, reports Gutman.

Such a program could help Kentucky address the state's problems related to food insecurity, obesity and education, while generating long-term savings. Similar food programs that provide meals to low-income children could generate as much as $41 billion in long-term federal saving by preventing obesity, says a new report from the Campaign to End Obesity.

The report says that the S-CHIP childhood obesity demonstration project, which combines changes in preventive care with community and school efforts to reduce childhood obesity in low-income communities, could prevent a child from becoming obese, saving an estimated $41,500 for an average female and $30,600 for an average male Medicaid beneficiary, says the report.


Three other programs were highlighted as huge cost-savers because they would prevent obesity and related chronic conditions in the long run, which would reduce health care costs and increase wages, says the report. These include increasing obesity screenings by physicians, bringing the Diabetes Prevention Program to scale and covering certain weight loss drugs under Medicare Part D. Preventive health policies aimed at obesity prevention could significantly reduce government expenditures, could save tax dollars and could improve the overall health of Kentuckians.