Assessing the Impact of the Mississippi Healthy Students Act on Childhood Obesity: Year 3 Research

University of Southern Mississippi researchers have found a significant decline in the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity among elementary age students in Mississippi public schools. The rate dropped from 43.0 percent in 2005 to 37.3 percent in 2011. Data from the 2011 Child and Youth Prevalence of Obesity Study (CAYPOS) also documented a significant drop in the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity for white students, but not for black students. Rates for all students in all grades have leveled off, a positive change that represents a major shift in direction after years of steady increases.

KEY FINDINGS FROM YEAR THREE RESEARCH

Results from the CAYPOS research are included in a report released by the Center for Mississippi Health Policy summarizing key findings from the third year of research, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Bower Foundation, evaluating the impact of the Mississippi Healthy Students Act. The Year Three Report, Assessing the Impact of the Mississippi Healthy Students Act, presents the results of studies conducted by three Mississippi universities that provide valuable information for educators and policymakers interested in the impact of the 2007 law. The universities collaborating with the Center on this project were the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State University, and the University of Mississippi.


Research results indicate considerable progress in implementation of school wellness policies but also point to areas where more work is needed. Schools have made significant progress in moving away from fried foods, with more than a third of schools having totally eliminated fryers from their cafeterias.

Parent surveys revealed that there had been little change in the home environment from Year One to Year Three. Family eating and physical activity patterns remained relatively constant except for an increase in the consumption of sodas and a drop in the consumption of vegetables.

In addition, parents do not appear to always recognize obesity in their children. When public school parents were asked for their children’s height and weight so that researchers could calculate the child’s body mass index (BMI), the percentage of children found to be overweight or obese did not differ much from the CAYPOS data. However, when asked to describe the weight status of their children, there was a considerable discrepancy between the parents’ perception and reality. Although CAYPOS documented that 41 percent of public school children in Mississippi are either overweight or obese, only 15 percent of parents labeled their children overweight or obese.

Copies of the summary report, as well as the detailed reports from each of the universities can be downloaded by clicking the links at the left. Printed copies of the summary report are available by contacting the Center for Mississippi Health Policy at 601-709-2133 or by e-mail at info@mshealthpolicy.com.