Mississippi childhood obesity rate slowly improving
November 25, 2012
by Leighanne Lockheart
Biloxi Sun Herald
The obesity rate for Mississippi's children has stabilized, but the same cannot be said of adults. A recent study shows that by 2030, 67 percent of Mississippi's adults are projected to be obese.
These projections released in September by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation would indicate a significant increase from Mississippi's current 35 percent obesity rate, expecting the state to hold its title as "the fattest state in the nation for at least two more decades," according to an article printed in a September issue of Sun Herald written by AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe.
Recent data collected from Child and Youth Prevalence of Obesity Surveys, however, shows childhood obesity in Mississippi has remained level since 2005.
"We are making some progress. We haven't taken a downturn, but we also haven't got any better," state health officer Mary Currier said. "Don't expect it to be a quick change."
A 2011 CAYPOS study revealed the 43.9 percent rate in 2005 of obesity and overweight children grades kindergarten through 12 to have gone down to 40.9 percent. The decrease, however, is not considered "statistically significant."
On the other hand, the rate of obese and overweight white students decreased from 40.6 to 34.8 percent. In addition, the elementary student rate went down to 37.3 percent in 2011 from 43 percent in 2005.
The study, published in the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association, states the prevalence of combined obese and overweight public school students "no longer appears to be increasing," information they refer to as "encouraging news for the state."
The leveling off of these statistics may be the result of countless school programs and campaign efforts to encourage healthier, more active lifestyles in students.
One of these programs, Project Fit America, recently awarded exercise equipment to Gautier Middle School and also provided staff-led cardiovascular health and lifetime fitness education programs to the students.
"This program is one of many efforts they are involved in," said Executive Director Sheila Grogan of Blue Cross & Blue Shield Mississippi Foundation, which oversees Project Fit and other programs throughout the state, "The unique thing about our foundation is we only fund programs without measurable outcomes that can be identified such as a decrease in BMI over time or improvements in physical fitness tests."
Currier said there are many things happening to help the health situation, but many things still to be done.
With the Healthy Schools Act enacted in 2007, many schools have stopped frying foods and incorporated healthier options in vending machines. Currier said there also has been an increase in farmers markets and having access to locally grown, unprocessed foods which avoid the excess fats, sugars and salts.
"The main thing is we have to change our eating habits," Currier said. "We find any occasion or event and celebrate it with food; We bring a ham, a cake. We need to change the culture."
Currier said officials are trying to figure out how to solve the disparity issue with statistics of race, age and gender and improve health across the board.
Other things still to be achieved include providing safe places to walk and exercise outside and educating people on what exactly are healthy food options.
"The communities can certainly work on these things," Currier said. "There needs to be a will to change. It's very hard to get people to change their behaviors."
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