Childhood obesity rates are lower in local towns

Childhood obesity rates are lower in local towns

SMITHFIELD – Elementary School principals Brian Ackerman and Julie Dorsey said fun interactive recess games and a practice of encouraging students to get out and be active both play roles in Smithfield’s lower childhood obesity and overweight rates compared to other areas of the state.

Rhode Island Kids Count conducted a first-of-its-kind three-year study on childhood obesity working with the Rhode Island Department of Health, Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute, State Innovation Model and three health insurance plans to collect data.

Of Smithfield students aged 2-17, 12 percent of students are considered obese and 12 percent are overweight, or 24 percent combined. Smithfield’s obesity and overweight rates are significantly lower than the state average of 35 percent.

The study defines an obese child as one whose body mass index is in the 95th percentile for gender and age, and children with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles are classified as overweight or at risk for obesity.

Other towns with similar numbers as Smithfield include Scituate, Glocester, Exeter, East Greenwich, and North Kingstown.

Smithfield’s rate is well short of obesity and overweight rates in core cities such as Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket, with a rate of 43 percent combined.

Assistant Supt. Sara Monaco said the district’s Health and Wellness Committee, which she leads with School Committee Chairwoman Rose Marie Cipriano, promotes health, well-being and readiness through instruction and collaboration with community partners.

Monaco said the committee secured grants to bring Recess Rocks in Rhode Island, a non-profit teaching healthy habits through play to combat childhood obesity, into two of the four elementary schools this year.

Winsor Elementary School Principal Brian Ackerman and LaPerche Elementary School Principal Julie Dorsey both went through training with Recess Rocks in February.

Monaco said McCabe and Old County Road elementary schools will participate in Recess Rocks training next year.

Ackerman said the program “reinvigorates recess” and get students to participate through new games and activities.

“It’s all about instilling those habits and giving them the best opportunities when they’re young,” Ackerman said.

With so much technology in education and at home, Ackerman said it’s important for families to get outside, have fun together and develop healthy habits.

“We don’t want technology to be a substitute for face-to-face interaction,” he said.

At LaPerche, Dorsey said Recess Rocks helped create set rules for the game, Four Square, and gave children positive solutions to conflicts that happen on the courts.

She said Smithfield elementary schools also encourage students to go outside for recess year-round to develop children’s appreciation for the outdoors. Even in the winter, students can dress in snow gear and play as long as the temperature is above 20 degrees (factoring in the wind chill.)

Smithfield Elementary schools also offer a 20-minute recess before the start of school for students to play, eat lunch, and socialize.

Monaco said while recess is important, students need a nutritional balance as well to combat obesity. She said she work with Smithfield food service provider Chartwells to create several healthy food tasting events where students try out healthy snacks.

At the high school, Chartwells introduced chef stations where students can pick out ingredients to be prepared as a unique dish.

Nearby, Scituate has a similar rate for childhood obesity, at 12 percent, while 14 percent of students are considered overweight. Supt. Carol Blanchette said the district is coming out with a new health curriculum to bring healthy activities into the school, and is working with Chartwells to bring farm-to-table choices to the lunchroom.

She said she believes obesity rates in Scituate are lower than the state average because of the number of sports programs in the district, 22, and because the district instills healthy lifestyles in many ways.

“It’s not a focus on keeping weight down. It’s more about healthy choices and healthy lifestyles,” she said.

Blanchette said students are encouraged to self-care as well as follow healthy eating and exercise habits. She stressed the importance of emotional and social well-being for students’ physical health.

“We want to continue that message to kids that they’re worth it to take care of,” Blanchette.

Still below the state average, Ponaganset School District, consisting of Foster and Glocester schools, has a 12 percent average for obesity, and a 14.5 percent rate for overweight children.

Supt. Michael Barnes said the schools took several steps to promote healthy lifestyles and a healthy weight.

“Compared to other districts in the state, our schools have a lower number of overweight or obese students. Nevertheless, there is more we can do to help our students develop healthy lifestyles,” he said.

Barnes said health and wellness begins with a strong foundation, started at the elementary schools. He said Captain Isaac Paine Elementary School in Foster focuses on developing students who are “strong in mind, strong in body and strong in character.”

He said the high and middle schools have the equipment to support strength training and cardiovascular development.

“Over the past six years, we expanded our afterschool athletic activities. We added three sports at the middle school and two sports at the high school, and we offer a wide selection of intramural sports for our students,” Barnes said.

Barnes said PHS will host a wellness symposium at the Ponaganset High School Field House to promote physical and mental health through interactive wellness sessions, on May 2 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.