Mississippi Turning the Tide of Childhood Obesity
Mississippi Turning the Tide of Childhood Obesity
New Study Shows Significant Drop in Rates of Overweight and Obesity Among Mississippi’s Elementary School Students
JACKSON, Miss. (May 9, 2012) — A new report released today by the Center for Mississippi Health Policy shows the state’s battle against obesity is making significant headway, especially among elementary school children.
New research compiled by the Center shows a statistically significant drop of 13 percent (or 5.7 percentage points, from 43.0 percent in 2005 to 37.3 percent in 2011) in the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity among all Mississippi elementary school students. This is a major shift in direction after decades of steady increases in rates of obesity among the state’s children.
Among students in all grade levels, there also was a significant 14 percent drop (or 5.8 percentage points, from 40.6 percent in 2005 to 34.8 percent in 2011) in the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity for white students, but prevalence rates remained relatively stable for black students. Overall, for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity has leveled off, dropping 6.8 percent since 2005 (or 3.0 percentage points, from 43.9 percent to 40.9 percent).
The full report released today, entitled Assessing the Impact of the Mississippi Healthy Students Act: Year Three Report, contains findings from several studies comprising the annual evaluation of the impact of the Healthy Students Act on childhood obesity. One of several studies contained in the report, the Child and Youth Prevalence of Obesity Survey, was conducted by researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi and tracks obesity rates among Mississippi public school children.
The charts below reflect the study’s findings for changes in the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity among Mississippi school children, based on race and gender, and for all children based on grade level.
Other studies in the evaluation project show that, after several years of considerable progress in the implementation of school wellness policies, work is still needed in several areas. While schools have made significant strides in moving away from fried foods, serving low-‐fat milk and putting healthier foods in vending machines, more progress is needed to provide students with nutrition education and adequate levels of physical activity. In addition, schools need more consistency in serving fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains.
“The schools are to be congratulated for their efforts to create healthy environments for our children,” said Dr. Mary Currier, Mississippi State Health Officer. “We’re beginning to see some benefits that will have a lasting impact on our state’s future generations, but we still have more work to do to assure that all our children experience better health.”
Parent surveys revealed that there had been little change in the home environment. Despite parents’ good intentions, family eating and physical activity patterns remained stagnant. In fact, research shows that vegetable consumption at home is decreasing, while soda consumption is increasing.
The research also shows that few schools have met the state’s requirements for diversity of membership in their school health councils, which are dominated by principals and teachers – with very little representation by school food service staff, parents, school board members and school superintendents.
Full implementation of the Healthy Students Act requires resources that are in short supply. The Mississippi State Department of Education has provided considerable technical assistance to schools to help integrate health education and physical activity into the curriculum, but components such as family and community involvement or fully functional school health councils take staff time to be effective.
“This evaluation will help us build upon existing successes and identify areas of opportunity to better meet the needs of children,” said Mississippi State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham. “The goal of the Healthy Students Act and related State Board of Education policies is to ensure every child has the opportunity to be fit, healthy and ready to succeed. We are encouraged by the progress our schools have made to improve the health of Mississippi’s children.”
Mississippi has consistently been ranked among the top states with the highest rates of child obesity. Because of the significant consequences of obesity, including higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke and depression, this situation is of great concern.
In an effort to prevent a further rise in the state’s childhood obesity rates, the Mississippi Legislature passed the Mississippi Healthy Students Act in 2007. The act represents the core of an effort to improve nutrition, increase physical activity and develop health education programs in public schools. Focusing on the school, where children spend much of their time as they form lifelong habits, the Healthy Students Act also contains provisions for parental and community involvement through school health councils.
The studies evaluating the impact of the Healthy Students Act are supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Bower Foundation, and are conducted by researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi.
ABOUT THE CENTER FOR MISSISSIPPI HEALTH POLICY
The Center for Mississippi Health Policy (https://mshealthpolicy.com) is an independent, non-‐partisan, non-‐profit organization located in Jackson, Mississippi, that provides objective information to inform health policy decisions. The Center’s work involves communicating research, examining health status and health care delivery trends, and analyzing relevant health policy issues affecting Mississippi.
ABOUT THE ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON FOUNDATION
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years, the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.
ABOUT THE BOWER FOUNDATION
The Bower Foundation is committed to the promotion of fundamental improvements in the health status of all Mississippians through the creation, expansion and support of quality health care initiatives. Given the vast health challenges facing Mississippians, the Bower Foundation directs its funds and energies into making sustainable, systemic improvements in the state’s health and education infrastructures. Through strong, substantive partnerships with organizations that share its vision, the Foundation leverages limited resources into grants that support mutual goals of better health outcomes and better health policy.