The obesity fight | Arkansas Blog

The obesity fight



Arkansas announces today that a focus on childhood obesity -- such as through body-mass measurement in the schools -- is having an impact. Full news release on the jump.

News release from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement

Little Rock, Ark. (Wednesday, August 16, 2006) — Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee today announced the results of the third annual Arkansas Assessment of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity. The new statewide data show that, while childhood obesity is still a major threat, Arkansas has halted the progression of the epidemic among its public school students.

"It’s clear that Arkansas is leading the nation in efforts to halt childhood obesity," said Huckabee. “While we still have a lot of work to do, we’re creating a culture of better health in our state.”

Researchers at the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) analyzed the results of three consecutive years of body mass index (BMI) screenings for Arkansas public school students. The data reveal that the percentage of students classified as overweight decreased from 20.9 percent during the first year to 20.4 percent this year. It also shows that the percentage of students at risk of being overweight—the category between “healthy weight” and “overweight”—declined slightly over the same period from 17.2 percent to 17.1 percent.

While childhood obesity threatens children in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, African-American and Hispanic children living in low-income communities are especially at risk. If the national epidemic continues to grow unabated, obesity-related illnesses could cause today's young people—for the first time in U.S. history—to have a lower life expectancy than their parents’ generation.

The problem is especially pronounced in Arkansas, where nearly 38 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or at risk of being overweight. Obesity rates among children and adults in Arkansas have grown steadily over the last decade, and the state regularly exceeds the national average for obesity rates.

To address these alarming trends, state legislators passed Act 1220 of 2003, a unique and comprehensive approach to addressing childhood obesity in schools and communities. The most attention-getting provision of the Act requires the annual screening of each public school student’s BMI and the confidential reporting of results to parents. The Act also calls for increased access to healthier foods in schools, as well as community involvement in encouraging physical activity and sound nutrition.

In response to the BMI reporting requirement, ACHI collaborated with policymakers and school personnel to create a system for measuring, weighing and calculating BMI levels for all public school students. For each of the past three years, ACHI has analyzed the resulting BMI data at the school, school district and state levels. Because of its size and methodological rigor, ACHI's BMI database represents the country's most comprehensive and accurate single-state profile of the childhood obesity epidemic.

“The most important reason for BMI assessment and reporting is to provide parents with critical information about a health risk to their children that’s all too often unrecognized,” said Joseph W. Thompson, MD, MPH, ACHI director and Arkansas surgeon general. "At the same time, it provides a valuable opportunity for us to understand and track the epidemic.”

The Arkansas Assessment of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity demonstrates that community members, parents, clinicians, educators, state health officials and legislators can work together to make a meaningful difference. While bringing the rise of childhood obesity to a standstill is a remarkable achievement, ACHI recognizes that reversing the epidemic will require a sustained effort.

“Arkansas’ efforts are pointing us in a direction that just might save our children," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Arkansas has halted the rise in obesity among its children and demonstrated how policy and practice can bring better health to the public."  The Foundation provided support to ACHI for the creation of its BMI database and for data analysis.

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