Findings in the agency’s recently completed “Survey of Body Mass Index Among Ottawa County Third-Graders” include:
— 9.3 percent of all third-graders sampled were obese and 15.4 percent were overweight.
— Students in lower-income public schools were two times more likely to be obese than students in higher-income public schools, and five times more likely to be obese than students in private schools.
— Students in lower-income public schools had the highest rates of obesity at 17.6 percent, followed by students in higher-income public schools at 9.7 percent and private school students at 4.1 percent.
The schools were categorized as lower income, higher income and private to serve as rough indicators of socio-economic status. Nationally, lower household incomes have been associated with a higher obesity rate.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate this association among students locally,” said Shannon Felgner, communication specialist for the Ottawa County Health Department.
Lower-income public schools were defined as such if 40 percent or more of its student population was enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been monitoring BMI since the early 1960s. From 1963-65, the overall national prevalence of obesity in youth ages 6-11 was 4.2 percent. Between this period and 2007-08, national obesity increased to 19.6 percent.
While Ottawa County third-graders overall have a much lower prevalence of obesity, Felgner said it remains to be seen if the obesity rates of local third-graders will follow this troubling trend observed nationally.
This is the third “Survey of Body Mass Index among Ottawa County Third-Graders” completed by the local Health Department. The previous studies were completed in 2005 and 2008.
At this time, there is no evidence that obesity among third-graders has changed in the county over the past six years, Felgner said.
“Since obesity is associated with several serious diseases — such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and, ultimately, premature mortality — it is important for public health officials to monitor indicators of obesity in the population,” explained Marcia Knol, community health analyst for the Ottawa County Health Department. “Collection of body mass index measures is an efficient and cost-effective way to establish baseline obesity levels and to follow changes going forward. Effective interventions start with an accurate understanding of the scope of the problem and the characteristics of the population most at-risk.”
Felgner said the Health Department and other organizations aimed at improving health can use the study data to devise plans to prevent obesity and the financial, physical and quality-of-life consequences of the health issue.
The complete survey is available online. In addition, parents who are curious about their child’s body mass index can find a link to a calculator, plus childhood fitness tips, at www.miottawa.org/health.