Lincoln addressing high obesity rate among students

Lincoln addressing high obesity rate among students

LINCOLN – Thirty-three percent of school-aged children in Lincoln are overweight or obese, according to fresh data from Rhode Island Kids Count.

The results of the three-year study show that 16 percent of Lincoln children are overweight and 17 percent are obese. Lincoln falls just below the statewide percentage, where an average of 35 percent of children are obese or overweight.

Children whose body mass index is in the 95th percentile for gender and age are considered to be obese. Children with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles are considered to be overweight, or at risk for obesity.

The rate of overweight or obese children was higher in the state’s core cities, with 43 percent either obese or overweight.

As previously reported, neighboring Cumberland was 2 percent lower than Lincoln, with 15 percent of students deemed overweight and 16 percent obese.

Rhode Island Kids Count recommended that schools continue to monitor the data to identify opportunities for intervention and programs to support children’s healthy weight.

At the forefront of efforts in Lincoln is the district’s Health and Wellness Committee, led by Mary Anne Roll, who also co-leads the Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition. Lincoln’s Wellness Committee has been active for more than 16 years, Roll said, implementing a number of initiatives over that period to help combat health issues.

“The link between wellness and student success and achievement is clear,” Roll said.

The committee annually surveys school principals regarding the implementation of its health and wellness policies, offering an opportunity for feedback.

Last fall, two work groups were formed, one to assess the health and wellness curriculum and one to review the district’s wellness policy, which hadn’t been updated since 2013. Part of the work will be taking a deeper look at newer nutrition standards to update the policy this summer.

Topics recently required by the General Assembly to be taught in health or physical education class are being added to the curriculum, and the committee is working to ensure that the same content is not in every grade.

Another part of the work includes ensuring that content is relevant to today’s students, featuring topics such as dating violence, online bullying and mental health.

School officials are also looking to enact a new mental health policy to include a broader definition of wellness.

Roll said there has been an ongoing conversation about snacking during the school day, and how to communicate with parents that brownies and cupcakes are not appropriate for every student birthday celebration.

“This is not to punish the kids. We don’t want to be known as the cupcake police,” Roll said.

“We’re not trying to tell parents how to feed their kids,” she said, adding that parents can still pack a birthday cupcake for their student’s lunch.

To encourage physical activity, Roll said Lincoln elementary schools offer 30 minutes of recess, 10 minutes longer over what’s required by the state. Activity breaks are encouraged during the day at all levels.

Lonsdale Elementary participates in the Recess Rocks in R.I. program, a partnership among Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Playworks New England and Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition to provide free training for school and recess staff “to ensure that recess is a safe, meaningful and healthy experience for every child.”

On the topic of childhood obesity, Roll said the number of children who fall into that category has increased steadily over the last 15 years. While schools aren’t going to fix the problem alone, she said offering healthier choices in the school cafeteria was a good place to start.