Mississippi Bends the Curve

Researchers Find Child Obesity Rates Leveling Off

Obesity rates for Mississippi school children appear to have leveled off, according to a 2009 study by researchers at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM).  The research, published in the March issue of the Journal of the Mississippi Medical Association, is the most recent in a series of data collected every other year to measure the prevalence of obesity among the state’s children.

The leveling of rates coincides with national data showing similar trends nationwide. Over the past thirty years, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled.  Concerned by these numbers, many states took action to improve nutrition and physical activity in the schools, including Mississippi which passed the Healthy Students Act of 2007.  In October, the Centers for Disease Control recognized Mississippi as making the greatest strides of all surveyed states in removing unhealthy foods from its schools.   “The Mississippi Department of Education is committed to supporting the implementation of quality school health programs and policies that provide opportunities for all children to be fit, healthy, and ready to succeed in the classroom and beyond,” State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Tom Burnham said.  “Through our partnerships with other agencies and organizations we can maximize the resources available, provide consistent messages, and coordinate our services to best meet the needs of children,” Burnham added.

The USM study shows that overall childhood obesity rates, which had been increasing up until 2005, dropped from 25.5 percent in 2005 to 23.9 percent in 2009.  Mississippi’s data, however, reveals a growing disparity between White and Nonwhite students in the prevalence of obesity and overweight.  In 2005, there was a 4.5 percentage point difference between the two racial groups, and in 2009, the difference was 10.3.

The percentage of students who were obese was highest among Nonwhite females at 28.1 percent compared to 26.6 percent for Nonwhite males, 22.5 percent for White males, and 16.4 percent for White females.  The racial differences were most notable in the elementary grade levels.

Dr. Mary Currier, State Health Officer, stated “These data are so important because they help us evaluate where we are so we can guide efforts toward where we want to be.  This information indicates we need to enhance efforts to reach African American children and their families.”

The study was funded by The Bower Foundation through the Center for Mississippi Health Policy as part of a comprehensive evaluation of the Mississippi Healthy Students Act.  Complete CAYPOS study information is available in the March 2010 issue of the Journal of the Mississippi Medical Association. Click HERE to download a copy of the article.

NOTE:  The article “Prevalence and Trends among Mississippi Public School Students, 2005-2009” is made available with permission of the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association, P.O. Box 2548, Ridgeland, MS 39158-2548.