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Obesity Rate of NYC's K-8 Students Declines Over Past Five Years

Since the 2006-07 school year, the obesity rate in New York City's K-8 public school students decreased 5.5 percent, according to a report published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In an editorial note, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control says, "This report describes the largest documented decline to date in a large city in the United States, using comprehensive K-8 public school data."

A decrease in the prevalence of childhood obesity is a complete turnaround from recent years in New York City. According to the study, in 1996, an estimated 19.7 percent of 3rd grade students and 21.2 percent of 6th grade students were considered overweight.

Seven years later, approximately 43 percent of the city's public school elementary students were considered overweight. Roughly 24 percent of NYC elementary students fell into the obese range then, too.

Well and Good

The report published in JAMA summarizes a recent data analysis conducted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in which researchers examined body mass index data for K-8 public school students from the 2006-07 to 2010-11 school years.

Overall, according to the data, the K-8 obesity rate fell from 21.9 percent to 20.7 percent (a 5.5 percent drop) from the 2006-07 and 2010-11 school years. Young children (ages 5-6) experienced the largest decline in that time period, going from 20.2 percent to 18.2 percent overall (a 9.9 percent decrease).

The report makes mention of "multiple" interventions introduced in NYC between 2003 and 2009 that were aimed at decreasing childhood obesity in city students. The authors do not causally tie the decrease in childhood obesity to these interventions, but say, "the trend toward reduced prevalence of obesity is encouraging."

However, the declines in childhood obesity varied wildly based on race and socioeconomic status.

Among all K-8 children, the two largest decreases were seen in white children and Asian/Pacific Islanders. White children more than tripled the rate of decline in obesity compared with African-American and Hispanic children, while Asian/Pacific Islanders nearly doubled their rate of decline.

Large differences existed in the rates of decline in low-poverty areas vs. high-poverty areas, too. The analysis reveals a 16.7 percent decrease in childhood obesity in low-poverty areas; however, high-poverty areas experienced a "nonsignificant decrease" of 2.7 percent.

"Decreases in the prevalence of obesity were not consistently significant among all children attending school in neighborhoods with high poverty levels," the report authors write.

At this point, unfortunately, socioeconomic inequality shouldn't be a surprise to many.

The fact that a major urban city decreased its overall childhood-obesity rate this quickly, though? That merits some closer examination.

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