More than one-third of students in 80 Massachusetts school districts weigh too much, according to a report released today that provides the clearest portrait yet of the obesity epidemicís grasp on the stateís youngsters.
Weight and height measurements of nearly 110,000 students during the 2008-2009 school year found that 16.9 percent of children were overweight and 17.3 percent were obese, a study from the state Department of Public Health found. The body mass index -- a standard measurement of whether someone's weight is appropriate -- was calculated for students in the first, fourth, seventh, and 10th grades. The Massachusetts obesity rate mirrors national trends; in 2007-2008, roughly 17 percent of youngsters 2 to 19 countrywide were obese.
Lawrence had the highest rate of overweight or obese students -- 46.6 percent -- while Arlington had the lowest, 9.6 percent. (Click here to see results for other communities.)
"The statistic that impressed me the most is a five-fold difference from community to community. That is huge," said Dr. Alan Woodward, a member of the state Public Health Council and former president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. "This points out the incredible opportunity that exists as much as the terrific disparity that exists."
The results released today cover 38 percent of students in the four grades statewide and, for the first time, provide a district-by-district analysis of student weight.
The Public Health Council -- an appointed board of physicians, consumer advocates, and health agency executives -- last year mandated that body mass screenings be conducted in all public schools. But select districts have been collecting the data for several years, and the findings released today provide a window into those schools and a benchmark for the future.
The study found that boys in all four grades were more likely than girls to weigh too much.
The body mass index averages were relatively similar for students in all four grades, suggesting thereís scant hope that children will simply "grow out of" their excess weight, said Dr. Lauren Smith, the state public health agencyís medical director. For example, nearly 33 percent of boys in the first-grade weighed too much; in the 10th grade, 32 percent of boys had excessive weights.
Parents can request that their children not be screened, but few parents exercised that option, officials said. A report on each child was sent to parents, with a caution that the screenings are designed to augment -- not replace -- visits to pediatricians and family doctors.
Municipal planners and school administrators are already examining the preliminary findings to chart plans for bike trails, sidewalks, and school locations, all with the hope of bolstering healthier behaviors, state health authorities said.
"This isnít just a school issue," said Anne Sheetz, director of the school health unit at the Department of Public Health. Body mass index scores "are a tiny piece of looking at a huge issue in our population. There are so many things that can be done."
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|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
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