The Union County School District released a report on Wednesday afternoon regarding a study done in cooperation with DHEC regarding the Body Mass Index (BMI) of local students.
As stated in the report, public health officials and children’s health advocates have been aware of the rising obesity rate for years, but a lack of consistent data has made it difficult to determine the exact scope of the problem in Union County. The object of the report is to make the scope of the problem clearer in order to address it.
Over the course of the 2011-2012 school year, Union County schools collected BMI data for every first-, third- and fifth-grader. To promote consistency from school to school, staff members were provided with similar scales and trained to use specific protocols to measure height and weight.
Key findings from the data were as follows:
• 37.1 percent of Union County first graders are obese or overweight
• 39.6 percent of Union County third graders are obese or overweight
• 53.8 percent of Union County fifth graders are obese or overweight
The report lists three conclusions drawn from the data found:
- Childhood obesity is a severe problem in Union County.
- Efforts should continue to monitor BMI in children.
- The community should be made aware of the situation in order to implement change.
“The new data will allow us to better target our efforts toward improving children’s health,” said school board member Jane Hammett. “We will continue to use this data to evaluate our progress.”
Physical education teacher Mike McGee echoed Hammett’s comments regarding the helpfulness of the report.
“Obesity is a complex issue with significant health and fiscal implications for the entire county,” McGee said. “This report will go a long way in helping us address obesity in our community.”
School District Superintendant Dr. Kristi Woodall said a study group meeting will be held at the beginning of the next school year to determine the district’s next step in alleviating the problem.
Director of School Food Service Susan Thompson explained that the district has taken great strides over the past several years and continues to update and upgrade menu selections at all grade levels.
“We want all children to have the nutrition they need to be fit, healthy and ready for success,” Thompson said. “This report on Union County School District obesity data will raise awareness about the importance of choosing healthy, nutritious foods to fill our plates.”
“Consistent with current federal guidelines, Union County school meals offer fresh fruit and vegetable choices, low-fat and non-fat dairy and more whole grains offered every day,” she added.
Thompson also said the district is working to eliminate fried foods, pointing out that Buffalo Elementary and Foster Park Elementary no longer have deep-fat fryers.
The report also offers possible actions to be taken by family, community and local government for the prevention of childhood obesity.
Families are encouraged to intervene, reducing the amount of time children spend doing sedentary activities such as viewing television, playing video games or using a computer. Family members are also encouraged to engage in and promote healthy eating and active lifestyles together as families. Monitoring and discussing BMI information with family health care providers is also an option.
Communities are also encouraged to take action by providing opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity in existing and new community programs; supporting legislation and other local and state-level action promoting healthy eating and physical activity; and seeking resources in order to help implement and/or maintain programs to promote and support healthy eating and physical activity in the community.
Local governments are encouraged to expand and promote opportunities for active living and healthy eating in the community through changes in ordinances, policies, capital improvement programs and other planning practices.
More information about Union County School District Food Service may be found at www.union.k12.sc.us/foodservice/.