State sees first decline in adolescent obesity in 10 years

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi’s obesity rate in high school students (grades 9-12) has dropped by 12.7 percent, knocking the state’s teens out of the number one spot down to number five in obesity nationwide.

Mississippi’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey found the rate of obesity among Mississippi high school students to be 16.5 percent, down from 18.1 percent in 2009. The national average for obesity among high school students is 13 percent.

“We are very encouraged to see this decline in obesity rates among our high school students. Although the change from two years ago is not statistically significant, it’s the first time in 10 years we have seen any decline at all in Mississippi’s adolescent obesity rate,” said State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier. “Mississippi’s obesity issue continues to be a huge public health concern but my hope is that we continue to see a decline in years to come.”

Health officials say the decline can’t be contributed to any one effort but that a variety of ongoing statewide programs to combat obesity are starting to pay off.

“Mississippi became a leader in school health with the passage of the Healthy Students Act in 2007. Our schools have incorporated more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain items into menus,” said Scott Clements, director of Child Nutrition and Healthy Schools at the Mississippi Department of Education. “At the same time, they are reducing fat by replacing fryers with new combination oven-steamers and moving to low-fat milk. Coupled with the increase in physical activity, it seems these efforts are contributing to improved student health.”

Educators and health officials agree healthier children miss school less often, focus better in the classroom and develop healthy habits that follow them through life.

“The results are encouraging. However, our work is not done,” said Interim State Superintendent of Education Dr. Lynn House. “We continue to work with the Bower Foundation and the State Board of Education on policies and research so that legislators can have the best information possible when developing legislation to help us fight childhood obesity.”

The state’s battle against obesity is also making some headway among elementary students. A recent report released by the Center for Mississippi Health Policy shows a significant drop of 13 percent (from 43.0 percent in 2005 to 37.3 percent in 2011) in overweight and obesity combined among all Mississippi elementary school students.

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