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Healthy Program

Schools start measuring kids’ body mass locally

October 5, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

Three local school districts are part of a state initiative to collect data from the student body - the body mass index, that is.

The Johnstown, Northville and Oppenheim-Ephratah school districts already have started collecting data with students in grades who must have physical exams.

That data will go to the state Health Department so programs can be designed to fight obesity and ensure children's health, Katherine Sullivan, Johnstown district superintendent said.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Parent Nicholas Dager, his daughter Serena, 7, and fiancée Jessie Pail talk with Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School nurse Cheryl Brown at the school health fair Sept. 25. Brown was explaining the new body mass index data collection process to visitors.

"New York state had a recent change in the law so that body mass and weight status must be part of the physical health survey in exams," Sullivan said. "We were selected as part of the sampling."

Sullivan said information has been sent to parents informing them about the process and telling them all individual information will be kept confidential, with only summary information being passed on.

"No personal information will be shared," she said.

Northville Central School nurse Annette Fordyce said the students' weights are being compared to what the state Health Department considers normal for boys and girls in grades targeted for physical exams this year - pre-K and kindergarten, depending on when a child enters school, second, fourth, seventh and 10th grades.

"The [body mass index] is plotted in percentages of less than 5 percentages being underweight, between 5 percent and 85 percent as a healthy weight, from 85 to 95 percent as overweight and over 95 percent as obese," Fordyce said. "Those categories are broken down for boys and girls."

Those who are surveyed will remain anonymous. The information will be used for a long-range health study, Fordyce said.

"Data collection started the first week of school and is due in to the state by Nov. 17," Fordyce said.

At the Oppenheim-Ephratah Open House and Health Fair Sept. 25, school nurse Cheryl Brown was explaining the BMI program to parents and visitors. Her presentation included the definition of BMI as the calculated ratio of weight and height and that it was a valid indicator of body fat for a person.

"It changes with age and sex," she said.

She said the purpose of the new legislation, an amendment to New York State Education Law Sections 903 and 904, was to increase early recognition of childhood obesity and provide a statewide system to assess childhood weight status.

The study should also provide information to help identify and evaluate successful schools and community changes or activities in the fight to keep children healthy.

She also said it will target resources and communities most at risk for children becoming overweight and obese. In New York state, 4.5 million children have 900,000 of their number in the overweight category.

"Whatever you can measure, you can improve," State Health Commissioner, Dr. Richard Daines, said. "By requiring the measurement of body mass index, I think we'll see some improvement."

He said a 2004 health survey of New York third-graders found 21 percent were obese.

"We'll have a much better sense of the distribution of the problem and if there are areas that have more of a problem," Daines said.

Brown said the consequences of obesity for children's health include Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, orthopedic problems, asthma and sleep apnea.

Brown went on to show the role of health care providers: counseling and follow-up treatment.

At the health fair with Brown were Noelle Smrtic of Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties and Sheldon Howard, health and wellness director for Fulton County YMCA.

Smrtic was speaking about issues such as bullying in school, using her "Slow Down Snail" puppet to visiting children's delight.

Howard said his after-school and exercise programs at the YMCA were in support of helping children be healthier and keep a lower BMI for a longer, healthier life.

Brown said data also will go to the Center for Disease Control with the possibility of new recommendations for children and their families around the country.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at



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