Two years ago, volunteers from the U of A and Pima County Medical Society (PCMS) assisted several schools in Tucson to weigh and measure 6th grade students.  I inputted much of the data and did the entire analysis.   We had a census, not a sample, of 1100 students in 5 schools.  We learned that the median body mass index (BMI) was the 89th percentile, 14% were above the 95th percentile (5’3”, 150 pounds), and 7% were above the 99th percentile. The typical student was obese. One in 14 was massively obese (5’, 220 pounds).

These are the most complete data on obesity prevalence I have seen.  What has been quoted nationally has been a sample of 40,000 teenagers.  With volunteers, we obtained complete data on 1100 6th graders in one city.  School administrators told us these data would be taken to other superintendents.  We heard nothing; our calls and e-mails were not returned.

Tucson still has the chance to be the only place in the country where we could know the BMI on every 6th grade public school student.  We could do it at virtually no cost with volunteers.  What we would discover is not known, but these data suggest we have a major local problem with obesity.

I am discouraged that as far as I have determined Activate Tucson has not considered determining the scope of the problem.  Unless we know the obesity prevalence annually, we will never know if what we do is worthwhile.

We need only the following:  permission to come to each school for two days, the second day to measure those who were absent on the first, a scale, a tape measure, somebody inputting the data, and somebody to analyze it.  As both a physician and a statistician, I am willing to do the last two for free.  U of A nurses and retired physicians are willing to volunteer.

In 2009, I hoped for national volunteerism and mandatory national service.  I hoped that we would actually count something important, count it right, and then determine what we should do with the data.  I hoped we would do away with the “fluff” that so many community activities have had, and I hoped we’d finally do something right in Arizona.  I was wrong.

The schools have ignored the data, the community isn’t interested in dealing with facts, we have significant numbers of obese 12 and 13 year-olds, and those who have $15 million to spend have not shown a way to prove whether their actions will work.

I am disappointed but not surprised.  I live in Arizona.


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