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Middle School Obesity Survey

Posted Jul 15 2010 6:27am

by Ashley Mehra

When Deval Patrick, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, learned that nearly a third of the children that call Massachusetts their home are obese or overweight, he announced his intention to fight obesity using a unique but controversial plan.

Massachusetts began an initiative that required public schools to measure the heights and weights of students in grades one, four, seven, and ten. These results would then be recorded in students’ report cards and forwarded to their homes with advice on consuming healthier foods and exercising more often.

My burgeoning curiosity on such a far-reaching and contentious anti-obesity campaign compelled me to conduct a survey on body mass index (BMI) at the private school for girls that I attend in Washington, D.C. With the aid of my principal and science teachers, I conducted a survey of the entire student body to seek its opinion on Gov. Patrick’s approach to reducing obesity in Massachusetts.
Question Proposed: Can rising levels of U.S. childhood obesity be reduced through programs such as those proposed by officials in Massachusetts?

Hypothesis: If children are educated on obesity and their BMI levels are tracked on their report cards, rates of childhood obesity in the nation will decline.

The research questions were divided into six categories
  • What is BMI?
  • The Importance of BMI
  • Finding BMI on a Report Card
  • Schools & Their Involvement with BMI
  • Estimates on BMI
  • How to Educate Students on BMI

With 120 students attending the school, ranging in age from 12 to 14 years, I randomly assigned an equal number of 7th and 8th graders to control and experimental groups. To the experimental group, I provided extracts from my blog about the mission to eliminate childhood obesity in Massachusetts. The control group was not provided the blog article.

I conducted a survey using Survey Monkey.

Out of the total 120 students, 105 stated that children SHOULD BE educated on obesity. Of those students
  • Most indicated that height and weight should NOT be measured in school.
  • Most said BMI scores should NOT be reported on report cards.
  • 64% agreed that if the students’ BMI had to be measured in school, the school nurse was the appropriate individual to perform the measurement.
  • 82% felt that their doctor was best suited for imparting education on obesity.

Overall, the data analysis from the survey revealed
  • 87.5% believed that children should be educated on the topic of obesity.
  • 50% did not know the meaning of BMI.
  • 57% provided suggestions on creative ways for educating children on obesity.
  • Nearly every participant chose lack of exercise as the #1 factor contributing to high obesity levels, with the consumption of fast foods coming in second place.

We can conclude from this survey that my classmates neither supported nor felt comfortable with the idea of having their school measure and record their BMI levels on their report cards. They also believed that only a medical professional should measure BMI. Specifically, students preferred their personal family doctor over any other school member, including the school nurse, to measure and monitor BMI.

These survey results are in stark contrast to the approach that Massachusetts plans to adopt to attack childhood obesity. Massachusetts officials believe that in addition to a family doctor, whom students see on occasion, students need the support of and participation from their public school to reverse the epidemic, as they spend most of their week in school. The notion is that if schools serve healthier lunches and promote daily exercise, children will learn the value of a healthy lifestyle.

It can also be observed that nearly every participant in my school chose lack of exercise over eating fast foods as the number one factor contributing to high levels of obesity. My peers believed that we, as students, lead a sedentary lifestyle – we sit in classrooms, are driven in a car to and from school, and then sit at home and do our homework.

My objectives for this experiment were two-fold: I wanted my classmates to realize that our health and global health are connected – how we act and what we eat can serve as examples for each other, children in our town, and in other cities, states, and around the globe. My other objective was to determine if Gov. Patrick’s strategy of engaging schools in measuring and recording the BMI of students was a strategy with which my classmates concurred. Given the dichotomy of viewpoints, we will have to wait and watch how this all unfolds.

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