are tasked with ensuring programs are efficiently using public dollars
while maximizing services. As budgets tighten, these programs are vetted
under extreme scrutiny to determine worth. Due to elections, most elected
officials look for the quickest return on investments when prioritizing
initiatives. Policies that take years to reach fruition are often
overlooked; voters expect results now. As attention spans have decreased
and expectations have risen, it has resulted in policies becoming shorter
sighted. A shining example that did not contemplate future consequences was
the decision to take fresh, healthy foods out of our school systems.
Given the recent
discussions surrounding the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA), we
must examine practices within West Virginia state agencies that are
contributing to the rise of healthcare costs in West Virginia. This is
paramount as our state budget continues to grow despite agencies seeing
cuts year after year. Services within these entities are being pushed to
the wayside to pay for the increase cost of caring for our citizens.
Therefore, the state’s health care bill is putting a strain on all
government agencies. Obesity, the drug epidemic and an aging population are
the main contributors for the inflated burden.
are already focused on combating the drug epidemic, while attracting young
people to the state to replace our older generations in the workforce.
However, the same effort is not being put towards to solving the rising
obesity crisis in the Mountain State. Policies implemented in the past have
created an artificial preference for processed foods at state institutions.
This is due to a decision to rid schools of actual kitchens and the cooks
who staffed them. In lieu of this, schools opt for highly processed foods
that can be heated and served instead of prepared, fresh. The healthier
food options have been replaced with high sugar, low-nutritional value
counterparts contributing to some of the worst health issues in the nation.
In what looked to be a small savings at the time, in reality has had dire
consequences on our population.
According to the
Pew Charitable Trusts, children consume up to 50 percent of their daily
calories at school. At the same time, obesity rates have risen 4.5% in the
last 20 years, according to the CDC and Prevention’s National Health
Nutrition Examination Survey. This clearly shows, obesity is an increasing
problem for our children. A study, New School Meal Regulations Increase
Fruit Consumption and Do Not Increase Total Plate Waste, found
when kids were given healthier choices, they ate more food while throwing
less away. School Lunch Quality and Academic Performance found a
modest increase in tests scores of children whose lunches were replaced
with healthier options. We can see that the food served in our schools has
a huge correlation to overall health and academic performance of students.
As health care
costs continue to rise, our state has an opportunity to right the wrongs of
the past. We need to focus on future generations, instilling healthy habits
at an early age. This must include expanding opportunities for state
institutions to source healthier, local foods from West Virginia farmers.
Current practices clearly have costed the state more money in the long run,
as well as taking economic opportunities from the local producer. If we can
reverse course, the state will see a drop in health care costs while
creating opportunities for economic growth. We should no longer continue to
make decisions based on short term savings without considering long term
consequences. At the end of the day, our children deserve better and this
is simply the right thing to do for West Virginia.
Kent A. Leonhardt
Commissioner of Agriculture