Cleveland Clinic Local Superintendents Examine Childhood Obesity In 15 School Districts

More than 25 Percent of Kindergartners, 40 Percent of 5th Graders Deemed Overweight or At Risk for Becoming Overweight

December 10, 2010

A partnership formed between Cleveland Clinic and the First Ring Superintendents’ Collaborative (FRSC) to examine childhood obesity in Northeast Ohio has completed analysis of data from nearly 8,000 students in 15 Cleveland-area suburban, public school districts and found that more than one in four kindergarteners (26.1 percent) and two in five 5th graders (40.2 percent) are overweight or at risk for becoming overweight.

Last spring, Cleveland Clinic – in collaboration with the FRSC – measured the height and weight of kindergarteners and 5th graders in 71 school buildings, as part of FRSC’s wellness initiative. Students’ parents were notified of their individual height, weight, Body Mass Index (BMI) and BMI percentile in a personalized letter mailed to their homes this week, along with community-specific resources and health and wellness information.

Students were placed in one of four categories, as defined by the Ohio Department of Health, based on their BMI percentile – underweight, average, at risk for being overweight, and overweight. The majority of all kindergarteners and 5th graders (62.8 percent) placed in the average category. However, 21.8 percent of 5th graders placed in the overweight category, as did 12.2 percent of kindergarteners.

“This is crucial information for families,” said Christine Carter-Kent, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. “The fact is, parents are often unaware that their children are overweight or obese, the ramifications of which are immense. Obese children are much more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, and bone and joint problems, not to mention the social and psychological problems that come from teasing and poor self-esteem.”

During the 2008-09 school year, the FRSC undertook a smaller BMI study as a pilot project, involving 1,500 students. In the spring of 2010, the superintendents expanded the program to 71 schools in 15 districts.

“Leaders of our school districts agree that wellness of our students is a priority and we will continue to work with Cleveland Clinic to enhance our ability to teach healthy habits and behaviors,” said Marty Motsco, FRSC facilitator. “This effort has moved ahead of Ohio legislation requiring BMI screenings. It allows us to focus on specific ways to encourage proper nutrition and physical activity, which are important factors in the overall health and achievement of our students.”

As part of the Healthy Choices for Healthy Children bill passed by the Ohio legislature this past summer, all public and charter schools will be expected to measure student BMI before May 1 of each school year.  Support for the legislation came from the Ohio Business Roundtable and was supported by Cleveland Clinic.

The final bill includes an opt-out clause that allows school districts to request a waiver from state education officials if the district demonstrates that it is unable to complete BMI screenings. Some districts are expected to opt out before next year.

As FRSC and Cleveland Clinic develop school programs designed to prevent or reduce obesity, the BMI data will provide a means to measure progress.

The BMI screenings were performed in the school districts of Bedford, Berea, Brooklyn, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, Cuyahoga Heights, East Cleveland, Euclid, Fairview Park, Garfield Heights, Lakewood, Maple Heights, Parma, Shaker Heights, South Euclid-Lyndhurst, and Warrensville Heights. Composite findings show:

BMI Percentiles
All students
All KG
All 5th grade
0-4.9 (Underweight) 278 (3.5%) 148 (4.0%) 130 (3.0%)
5-84.9 (Average or typical) 5000 (62.8%) 2585 (69.7%) 2415 (56.7%)
85-95 (At risk for becoming overweight) 1301 (16.3%) 517 (13.9%) 784 (18.4%)
Above 95 (Overweight) 1384 (17.4%) 454 (12.2%) 930 (21.8%)
Total 7963 (100%) 3704 (100%) 4259 (100%)
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