TIME TO WEIGH IN ON OBESITY


We now know the current body mass index (BMI) for all 926 6th graders in 4 different Tucson middle schools: 45% are overweight (BMI above the 85th percentile), 27% obese (above the 95th percentile).  From 926 students we would expect 46 to be obese; the actual number is 250. If these schools are typical, and the four have remarkably similar results, we may have the highest proportion of obese 12 year-olds in the country.  But we don’t know for sure, because we haven’t studied enough middle schools.  National surveys of childhood obesity in 2007 included 44,000 10-17 year-olds; I would expect 9 Tucson 6th graders in those statistics.  Nine.

I find the lack of complete, current local and national data appalling.  We know obesity is a problem; how difficult is it to weigh and measure every 6th grader?   It isn’t, and we can do it here at NO ADDITIONAL COST with current school nurses/health aides, U of A student nurses, volunteers from the Pima County Public Health Department and the Medical Reserve Corps.  All have helped and are willing to continue helping, using a known efficient process to perform health screening in schools.  At no charge, I entered much of the data; I interpreted all of it.

A 12 year-old 5’, 155 pounds, or 5’ 4”, 175 pounds, is obese and will have increased medical problems and costs during a shortened life. Many of the students weigh more than 200 pounds.  More than half, should nothing change, will be unfit for military service, which concerns me as a veteran. We don’t want young people smoking because it is harmful and addicting.  Obesity in young people is harmful, and we know certain foods are addicting.

Here is what we do:

  • Establish a baseline by screening every public school 6th grader (I welcome private schools, too) early in the school year.  Such screening is an excellent math and biology project in its own right, and obesity should be addressed both in the schools and at home.  Each school should know its own and district data; the public should know district and community data.  We don’t want inter-school competition; we want to know the number of overweight students in each school, which determines where and how we act.
  • Perform pilot projects in schools to test efficacy of changing meals or vending machines, mandatory physical education, parental notification and nutritional counseling.  Having a baseline will allow us to evaluate an approach.
  • Recognize this problem will require years to address.  But if we don’t act, it will not vanish; indeed, it will likely worsen, as it has this decade.

We must address child obesity, and we can,  if we have the support of local leaders, superintendents and principals.  Screening all our 6th graders and acting on solid, current data during state penury would put Tucson in the national spotlight and stun the nation–favorably, for a change.



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