Less is More: Significant Decrease Seen in Childhood Obesity

Silver Wing Elementary third-grade students were breaking a sweat. They were jumping rope, executing lunges, and performing “bicycle” abdominal crunches—all in an effort to increase their knowledge and demonstrate their performance of key physical fitness components. The students’ cardiovascular endurance, abdominal strength, and even their brains were put through a workout during the physical education session.

The workout reflects the Chula Vista Elementary School District’s effort to increase students’ physical literacy. The aim is to ensure students have the skills and knowledge to perform a variety of physical activities, putting them on a path to becoming “fit for life.” The participation in such workouts is already paying dividends.

A comprehensive six-year initiative to improve student health and wellness across the District has resulted in the most positive trends to date. The results of the District’s 2016 measurement of the height and weight of every preschool through sixth grade student were announced at a press conference recently at Silver Wing, co-hosted with the County Health and Human Services Agency. The data collection indicated that, compared to 2010, when the District first collected student Body Mass Index (BMI) data, CVESD recorded:

  • a 7.4% increase in students in the normal weight category;
  • an 8.0% decrease in students in the overweight category; and
  • a 17.1% decrease in students in the obese category.

CVESD’s results are being celebrated as strong validation of the importance of community involvement in achieving wellness outcomes. “All eyes are here on Chula

2017 SW BMI 1

Silver Wing students are jumping stars.

Vista,” said Nick Macchione, Director, Health and Human Services Agency, County of San Diego. “At a time when school districts across the nation are showing a growing number of kids who are overweight or obese… Chula Vista is showing the way, by showing the opposite (results).”

From 2014 to 2016, Silver Wing experienced the greatest reduction of students in the obese category and greatest increase of students in the normal weight category among District schools. Silver Wing recorded a 12.4% decrease in the overweight category, and a 20.3% decrease in the obese category, which is the equivalent of moving 30 students out of those respective weight categories.

Superintendent Francisco Escobedo, Ed.D., praised a “team effort” in impacting student health and wellness.

“We no longer have any ‘red’ schools,” Escobedo said. The reference was to the District’s color-coded BMI maps, where obesity rates are layered over school attendance areas. In 2010, five “red” schools, where more than 30 percent of students were obese, comprised a swath of west Chula Vista. In some schools, as many as 40 percent of students were obese—data that produced gasps at parent presentations.

Today, there are no more schools in the red. This life-changing impact was no accident, Escobedo said. “That happens by changing how we feed our students in the cafeteria. That happens by changing our behaviors in the classroom, by eliminating classroom parties focused on cupcakes. That happens by focusing on physical education, looking at more than just playing games, but actually working out,” Escobedo said.

CVESD’s Board believes that schools play a critical role in curbing a national epidemic of childhood obesity. With this in mind, the Board in May 2012 approved an overhaul to the District’s Wellness Policy. Key changes included a ban on flavored milk with meals or snacks in school cafeterias; prohibition of food items in celebration of a student’s birthday (no cupcakes) during the school day; and no more than two parties/celebrations with food for each class, per school year, to be scheduled after lunch whenever possible.

Collaborative partners such as the city of Chula Vista, and a bevy of hospital groups and health professionals all helped the cause. CVESD partnered with the American Heart Association and South Bay Family YMCA to get more students moving, whether ‘Jumping Rope for Heart’ at all 45 schools or sweating with their parents in Zumba classes on elementary campuses.

“We are expanding the good health footprint for all of Chula Vista,” Escobedo said.

CVESD was the first district to partner with the County on Live Well San Diego. The County Board of Supervisors launched Live Well San Diego in 2010, with the goal of achieving healthy, safe and thriving communities across the region.

In partnership with the Health and Human Services Agency, CVESD created a “BMI Surveillance Toolkit” to assist other school districts in replicating CVESD’s efforts. The toolkit includes templates for conducting the measurements, communicating the results, and identifying needed resources that could further assist in increasing the capacity of school officials, teachers, parents and community members to address childhood obesity.

The outcomes in Chula Vista are encouraging, but the work is not finished, Escobedo said. “The students are learning and adopting behaviors that they will carry with them into adulthood and hopefully pass on to their own children,” he said.

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