Written by Charmaine Ruddock
‘Childhood obesity declines in several states, cities” was the title of an article in today’s USA TODAY. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/24/childhood-obesity-declines/1652955/
In the article are listed several states and cities in which the data points to gains made in the current battle to reduce, what many have deemed, the epidemic rates of children who are overweight or obese. Listed among such states and cities as Mississippi, California, Philadelphia, Anchorage and El Paso was New York City where the decline in obesity rate was for K-8th grades from 21.9 percent to 20.7 percent. In fact, according to the CDC New York has even more to be encouraged by because for the kindergarten group the decline was even steeper, as much as 10%. By any standard this is good news and is in part due to such City efforts as serving healthier foods in the cafeterias, switching to low fat milk, http://www.bronxhealthreach.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Got_Low_Fat_Milk.pdf.pdf , and eliminating unhealthy items from vending machines in the schools. But, along with these encouraging signs there are disturbing ones. Even as the overall childhood obesity rates fall, it is not across the board for all racial and ethnic groups. In a December 2011 article in DNAinfo.com New York, it was reported that the substantial declines in obesity were primarily in white children from more affluent neighborhoods. For poor black children the decline was only 1.9 percent and for Hispanic children it was 3.4 percent. Interestingly, while Mayor Bloomberg attributed the disparity primarily to economics he was also vetoing New York City Council’s living wage bill City Council Overrides Bloomberg’s Living Wage Veto.
In the south Bronx, where Bronx Health REACH focuses much of its work, the overweight and obesity rates for elementary school students is about 40 percent. Recognizing that even for city wide policies place matters when it comes to their implementation and effect, Bronx Health REACH has sought to buttress some of the city’s anti-obesity policies by working with several public schools and even charter schools. These joint efforts include putting in place class room based nutrition education and physical education activities. With support from the Johnson and Johnson Community Healthcare Program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention REACH US initiative we have piloted nutrition education in third grade classrooms in four schools with early results showing promising effect in nutrition behavior and even reduction in body mass index (BMI). In addition, we have been working with a number of schools in Districts 7 and 9 to increase physical activity. In the 2011 – 2012 school year, with support from New York State Department of Health’s School Wellness Initiative and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention REACH US program, training sessions were conducted with 179 teachers in 13 schools to implement Tai Chi http://www.taichiforkids.com/ and Activity Works www.activityworks.coms.
In a recent conversation with the principal and staff from one of the schools in which we have both programs it was brought home to me how enormous is the task they face to be on the front line of addressing childhood obesity while at the same time battling to improve the academic standards and opportunities for their students. It is no coincidence that the same children battling for academic improvement are the same children waging the battle against overweight and obesity. The underlying reasons for both battles share a common root, socio-economic inequalities. Nevertheless, schools such as PS 218 featured here give us cause for hope http://www.uft.org/feature-stories/healthy-and-green.