An alarming number of Mississippi's children and youth are falling
victim to what has been described by leading medical and nutrition
experts as a major health crisis, according to a study conducted at
the The University of Southern Mississippi.
titled The Child and Youth Prevalence of Overweight Survey (CAYPOS)
and conducted in collaboration with the Epidemiology Office of the
State Department of Health, examined Mississippi children in first
through eighth grades using a sampling methodology from the Centers
for Disease Control. The two-month survey of more than 1,600 students
in 37 randomly selected schools across the state in 2003 found that
26.9 percent of those in first grade were overweight or at risk
of being overweight, and that by eighth grade, the percentage rose
to more than four out of every ten students.
percent of students in first through eighth grades were found to
be overweight, and another 15 percent were at risk of being overweight,
giving a combined total of 39 percent, or two out of every five
children. The combined frequency of those overweight and at risk
for being overweight tended to increase through the grades, from
27 percent in first grade to 43 percent in eighth grade. The figures
were slightly higher in nonwhites (40 percent) than whites (37 percent);
there was virtually no difference between males and females.
Dr. Jerome Kolbo, professor of social work at Southern Miss and
a member of the team conducting the study, the survey is the first
of its kind in the state and nation. It was funded through a grant
from the Bower Foundation, a private, non-profit foundation, which
supports research regarding health and health care in Mississippi.
Prior to this
survey, no data were available on obesity in elementary school children
in the state. Previous estimates of obesity in middle school children
were based on height and weight data from the Mississippi Youth
Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS), deemed by some researchers as
less accurate and reliable because students are asked to self-report
their height and weight. The Southern Miss / MSDH survey used actual
height and weight measurements taken by trained staff, usually school
nurses, Kolbo said.
Kolbo said, the problem is related to diet and lifestyle. "While
fast food is part of the problem, it is tied to more meals eaten
out of the home, super-sizing (both at home and at the fast-food
restaurant), economics and work schedules (both parents having to
work outside the home), lack of opportunities for and willingness
to engage in physical activity," he said.
as in many other southern states, a culinary culture that includes
an affinity for fried foods is yet another factor in the propensity
for weight gain among the state's youth. Although some overweight
children will shed the excess weight as they grow and develop, many,
perhaps even one half, will become overweight adults who will suffer
all the adverse medical consequences which accompany the condition,
including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes,
and heart disease.
is a public health disaster just unfolding before our eyes,"
said Dr. Alan Penman, the MSDH epidemiologist who analyzed the survey
data, "with very serious implications for the health of future
generations of Mississippi adults."
U.S. teens are more likely to be overweight than are teens from
14 other industrialized nations, according to survey information
collected in 1997 and 1998 by two agencies of the Department of
Health and Human Services as well as institutions in 13 European
countries and in Israel. The study appears in the January issue
of The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Dr. Mary Kay
Meyer, a registered dietician and a senior research scientist with
the National Food Service Management Institute at Southern Miss,
said the strongest indication of the impact of diet on our culture
is that so many kids enter first grade with a weight problem. Children
come to school accustomed to fast food and expect the school lunch
to include the same type of items they've been getting from the
drive-thru, she said.
with overweight kids, we see overweight adults (parents),"
Meyer said. "It's a bigger problem than just school meals.
It's an actual issue with families." Hectic lifestyles that
find parents balancing careers with driving kids to and from activities
makes it harder for the family to gather together for a family meal,
which tends to be healthier, lower in calories, fat and sodium,
and more likely to include vegetables and fruit.
I was growing up, we played outside in the afternoon, softball or
other sports," Meyer said. "Now parents have to take their
kids to all these organized activities - they're almost like activity
directors." Such a lifestyle, she said, makes gathering at
the family dinner table a unique event and ordering out for meals
can be reversed, Southern Miss researchers say, if a commitment
is made by parents, educators and school officials, and other members
of the community to make lifestyle and cultural changes. Making
such changes should start in the preschool years," Kolbo said.
"With so many coming to school overweight, we need to begin
working with the children and parents long before first grade. The
preschool years offer much promise when children, parents, teachers,
and health care providers all come together to convey the same information
and opportunities about healthy living as it relates to physical
activity and nutrition."
Dr. Nancy Speed,
coordinator of the physical education program at Southern Miss and
a member of the team conducting the study, concurs with Kolbo. Along
with changes in diet, another key to stopping the trend in its tracks,
Speed said, is to once again make physical education an integral
part of elementary and secondary school curriculum. "We need
to make regular physical activity and exercise a part of everyone's
daily lifestyle," Speed said. "We need to restore daily,
mandatory physical education in schools for all grades."
physical education program which focuses on fitness should include
fitness assessment to educate students and their parents on their
current state of fitness," Speed said. "Many fitness assessments
are packaged with a curriculum guide of activities to use to improve
physical fitness. However, the key is to actually deliver these
activities to schoolchildren."
In many instances,
for adults to admit that they or their children have a weight problem
is critical to affecting change. "Many adults deny that they
or their children are overweight or obese and don't want to change,"
Speed said. "That makes lifestyle changes difficult for children