A new report from the Boston Foundation and NEHI, a nonprofit, independent health policy institute, handed out grades to Massachusetts across a range of areas in its “Healthy People/Healthy Economy” [pdf] annual report card. Sadly, Massachusetts earned a lackluster “D” in the category of youth physical activity. The report explains why:
In 2009, one in every four students in Massachusetts did not participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per week and almost half—42%—of Massachusetts public school students did not attend any physical education classes.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 18 percent of Massachusetts schools offer daily gym classes, compared with a 30% national average.
According to a July 2011 report, Massachusetts is at the bottom of all states when it comes to physical activity for high
To try to improve on this front, the Coalition has filed legislation urging state standards to require at least 30 minutes of physical activity during the school day, every day, for all students.
The report analyzed the 2009 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, an anonymous survey given to randomly chosen schools every two years. In 2009, the first year that bullying was included in the questionnaire, 138 public middle schools and high schools participated in the survey.
The results show a striking correlation between family violence and bullying. Compared with students who were neither bullies nor bullying victims, both middle and high school bully-victims reported much higher instances of being physically hurt by a family member (23.2% versus 5.1% for middle school; 20.4% versus 4.7% for high school) or witnessing violence in their family (22.8% versus 6.6% for middle school; 30.6% versus 7.2% for high school).
Key findings from the report include:
More middle school students (26.8%) than high school students (15.6%) were categorized as victims of bullying, with a greater percentage of males (9.9% for middle school and 12.1% for high school) than females (5% for middle school and 4.8% for high school) categorized as bullies.
Compared with students who were neither bullies nor bullying victims, both middle and high school bully-victims were more than three times as likely to report seriously considering suicide (24.9% versus 4.5% for middle school; 22.5% versus 6.2% for high school) or intentionally injuring themselves (40.9% versus 8.4% for middle school; 28.5% versus 8.6% for high school).
Sizable percentages of both bullies and bully-victims acknowledged recent use of alcohol (32.7% and 22.7%, respectively, for middle school students; 63.2% and 56.3%, respectively, for high school) and recent use of drugs (32.0% and 19.9%, respectively, for middle school; 47.2% and 41.0%, respectively, for high school).
The study was conducted by taking the body mass index, or BMI, of students in grades 1, 4, 7, and 10 in select school districts in the 2008-09 academic year. Children are considered overweight if their BMI is between the 85th and 95th percentile for their age and obese if their BMI is equal to or greater than the 95th percentile.
TheBoston Globe published a chart showing the breakdown by school district. They also reported that “the study, which reflects weight and height measurements for about 110,000 students, for the first time provides data on separate school districts and underscores the role of poverty and affluence in determining weight.” Arlington had the lowest rates of obesity and overweight while Lawrence had the worst; Boston came in 76th out of 80 districts. Eight of the 80 districts had rates of obesity and overweight greater than 40%. For a list of the best and worst ranked districts, see this illustration published in the Globe.
A unique aspect of the City Connects approach to student support is our emphasis on health and wellness. Children living in high-poverty neighborhoods suffer disproportionately from chronic illness and health risks in addition to obesity, which may negatively impact their academic success. With the longstanding support of the New Balance Foundation, City Connects has been able to include health as a core component of student support, paying particular attention to individual student’s health needs, partnering with community health services and programs, and promoting the healthy development of the entire school.
For more information:
Calculate your BMI using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online tool
Follow the Mass. Department of Public Health on Twitter @MassDPH