New Study Shows School has Large Role in Kids’ Health Disparities

A study published in the August 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine by a consortium led by Boston Children’s Hospital examined potential causes of racial and ethnic health disparities in 10- and 11-year-olds. It’s being called the “most ambitious study yet” of health issues facing children this age. The study looked at 16 health-related measures and found:

  • Black children were four times more likely and Latino children were two times more likely than white children to see a threat or injury with a gun
  • Black children were more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol than Latino and white children
  • Rates of obesity were nearly twice as high among black and Latino children, who also reported less vigorous exercise than white children.

But these disparities were affected by a child’s school and parental levels of income and education. From the Children’s Hospital press release:

…The study found that children of all races and ethnicities did better on these health indicators if they had more highly-educated parents with higher income or had the advantages of attending certain schools. Although white children were more likely to have these advantages than black or Latino children, when children with similar advantages were compared, racial and ethnic differences for most health indicators were smaller or even absent.

How should the findings be interpreted? The study’s first author, Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and William Berenberg professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said knowledge is key:

“Significant disparities in behaviors and experiences that raise health concerns are already present during elementary school. We should be thinking about these issues when children are young enough to prevent bad outcomes before they occur. Our research suggests that schools may be a key leverage point for addressing gaps among different racial and ethnic groups. We need to figure out what we can learn from the schools that are doing better, even when they’re in similar communities to schools that are not doing as well.  Is it a visionary principal, committed teachers, a strong commitment to health education, an engaged PTA? We need to learn more.”

At City Connects, we believe that supporting students in elementary school gives them the tools they need to succeed and thrive in school. Our systematic approach to addressing students’ strengths and needs has proven effective in elementary school and beyond; you can read about our results here.

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City Connects School Wins Health Award

Alliance for a Healthier GenerationThe John F. Kennedy elementary school in Jamaica Plain, a City Connects school, is being honored by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for fighting childhood obesity. The Alliance, founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, has recognized the JFK school for transforming its campus into a healthier place for students and staff.

To earn this award, the JFK revamped its meals service and physical activity programs to meet or exceeded stringent standards set by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, which provides expert advice and free resources to more than 12,000 schools nationwide to help them reverse the national trend in childhood obesity. Schools are eligible for Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum National Recognition Awards based on their level of achievement. The JFK school, a Bronze National Recognition Award winner, joins 274 other schools that are receiving this honor for their healthy achievements.

Rachel Garcia, the City Connects health coordinator at the JFK,  said that as a turnaround school, this milestone is particularly important. The school set out to achieve a National Recognition Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, requiring definite changes in the school schedule and the attitudes about increasing physical activity for students.

“With 70% new staff and a new principal, there is a reinvigorated quest for change. The principal, Waleska Landing-Rivera, was very enthusiastic and supportive in establishing a School Wellness Council to improve the overall health and wellness of our students and staff. For instance, Mrs. Landing-Rivera made recess a mandatory daily occurrence for at least 20 minutes, and also granted a second daily recess to kindergarten and first graders. Physical Education was also added to each student’s schedule at least once a week for 50 minutes. Many classes have P.E. twice a week.

Additionally, the City Connects/New Balance Foundation Health & Wellness Curriculum brought in not only content but also daily classroom movement breaks and physical activity exercise games. For next year, we plan to have daily morning Jammin’ Minutes for the whole school to complete after breakfast, which will increase the physical activity movement for every student. We are proud of our Bronze Level accomplishment and next year we will try for Silver!”

Two other Boston schools were recognized at a the June 13 awards ceremony in Little Rock, Arkansas. In response to this award, which comes on the heels of a new health and wellness district-wide  initiative, Boston Public Schools superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson said:

“We are working aggressively to close access and achievement gaps for our students, but for us to be successful in that endeavor we must have healthy, engaged students. We know that if our students are eating right and staying active they will be more engaged in the classroom. We take pride in the staff at these schools who are going the extra mile for our students.”

Last year, seven BPS schools were recognized, including two City Connects schools, the Quincy and Mission Hill. Congratulations to the JFK and this year’s winning schools!

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More Sleep, Less Obese?

Photo by GraceFamily

A new study published in Pediatrics finds that kids who sleep more hours and on a regular schedule are less likely to be obese. Researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Louisville found that kids in the study (aged 4 to 10) slept an average of 8 hours per night. Children whose sleep duration was shorter and did not follow a regular pattern were more likely to be obese.

“Catchup sleep” on the weekends slightly reduced the risk of obesity, but the study also found that obese children were less likely to catch up on sleep on weekends.

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New Report Shows High Rates of Overweight & Obesity in Mass. School Children

A new report released yesterday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has some alarming results: in eight school districts across the state, more than 40% of students were overweight or obese.

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.

The Boston 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.

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Childhood Obesity Task Force Unveils Action Plan

From the White House: Today, First Lady Michelle Obama joined members of the Childhood Obesity Task Force to unveil the Task Force action plan: Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation.

“For the first time, the nation will have goals, benchmarks, and measurable outcomes that will help us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family, and one community at a time,” Mrs. Obama said.

In February, the First Lady launched the Let’s Move! campaign to solve the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation.  As part of this effort, the President established the Task Force on Childhood Obesity to develop and implement an inter-agency plan that details a coordinated strategy, identifies key benchmarks, and outlines an action plan to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.

The action plan defines solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation as returning to a childhood obesity rate of just 5% by 2030, which was the rate before childhood obesity first began to rise in the late 1970s.  In total, the report presents a series of 70 specific recommendations, many of which can be implemented right away.  Summarizing them broadly, they include:

  • Giving children a healthy start on life
  • Empowering parents and caregivers with simpler actionable messages about nutrition
  • Providing healthy food in schools
  • Improving access to healthy, affordable food
  • Getting children more physically active

The Boston Globe recently reported that Massachusetts’ rate of childhood obesity was 13.3% and the overweight rate was 30%. While the obesity rate is lower than the national average of 16.4%, the overweight rate is almost par at 31.6%.