by Max Brantley
You could report that the figures on the Body Mass Index assessments of Arkansas schoolchildren for the 2006-07 school year show that kids aren’t putting on weight, that the state has put a halt to an upward trend toward obesity in its kids K-12.
That’s the spin the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joe Thompson, and the agency he heads, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, puts on it.
Or you could report the figures this way:
While the number evaluated declined nearly 8 percent, Arkansas students showed a .2 percent increase in the overweight and at-risk for overweight categories determined by the BMI weigh-ins. (The BMI is a ratio of height to weight.) In other words, another year and Arkansas kids got a smidge fatter, at least those we're managing to measure.
In the school year 2005-06, 85.5 percent of 369,416 students were evaluated at schools across the state. A total of 37.6 percent of Arkansas schoolchildren were found to be either at risk of overweight or overweight. Last year, 2006-07, when 77.6 percent of 366,801 were weighed, that total was 37.8 percent.
(In the Little Rock School District, the total was 38 percent, while North Little Rock was a leaner 36.85. The Pulaski County Special School District came in at 37.46.)
The 37.8 percent is down .3 from the 38.1 measured as at risk or overweight in the first school year the BMI was measured, 2003-04.
Take into consideration that “at risk of” is actually overweight and overweight is obese, all of these numbers, despite their decimal differences, are fairly grim. Further consider that the kids who weren’t weighed last year were conceivably those who don’t want to get on the scales, the figures are even more sad. (The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, which issues the report, suggests that debate in the legislature to curtail the BMI program may have produced the lower participation.) Nor does the report include information tracking individual students that might suggest a trend over the four years the BMI has been measured. In theory, the BMI’s steady rate is correlated to work in the schools to eliminate sodas and candy and encourage exercise.
The BMI report, including data by individual schools, district and county, can be found at www.achi.net.
-- Leslie Newell Peacock