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Local health officials track student weight

The New Richmond School District continues to compile Body Mass Index (BMI) information on students and the findings are helping officials address trends toward obesity.

The newly completed 2011-12 BMI report for students in kindergarten through eighth grade was recently released by the district. The BMI index is computed by using a person's height and weight to determine if they are below average, average or above average when compared to others their same age.

The details in the BMI report are eye opening for St. Croix County Public Health officials who are trying to help area school districts educate young people about healthy food choices and increased physical activity.

According to Joan Simpson, school nurse, the district uses the BMI information to spot trends and to create programs to address overweight or obese students.

"As the school nurse, I am really looking at aggregate data less than individual data," she said. "I look for trends and continue to seek avenues to assist students in maintaining or achieving a healthy weight."

Individual BMI results are shared with the parents of students who are either underweight or overweight by national Center for Disease Control standards.

It's left up to the parents to take action if they feel it's necessary, Simpson said.

"If I, as the school nurse, see a decline in weight during a time when a student should be on a healthy growth curve, I do notify the parents to discuss possible health concerns," she said. "This is also true for a substantial rapid weight gain."

Simpson admitted that some parents don't like the fact that their children are identified as overweight or obese and have objected to the collection of BMI data, but Simpson said the information is helpful to school and health officials.

She noted that parents can "opt out" of the BMI screening and their children won't be included in the collection of height and weight.

On the school district level, if a BMI trend is identified in a particular class or age of students, Simpson said teachers and administrators try to develop special programs to promote wellness and an active lifestyle.

"The physical education teachers look at the data and may alter the actual time spent in physical activity for a particular class or grade based on the data," Simpson noted.

The classes of 2018 and 2021 are two groups of students that have been identified as needing extra instruction about being active and eating better. Simpson said the district has worked with the county's "Healthier Together - St. Croix County" initiative to create more healthy opportunities for students who have been identified as overweight or obese. The county effort was made possible through a grant from the St. Croix Valley Community Foundation.

A free program was offered to students in first through sixth g

rade to address physical activity and nutrition. "Let's Get Physical" ran three sessions this past school year.

"We have received a grant again from St. Croix Valley Foundation through Healthier Together- St. Croix County for the 2012-12 school year and will offer this program again in three sessions," Simpson said. "This has been a very successful program and continues to grow each year."

Overall, New Richmond is below the national averages when it comes to overweight students, Simpson reported, but that doesn't mean there is no room for improvement. About 17 percent of children are obese in the U.S., and about 12 percent of students in grades kindergarten through eighth in New Richmond are considered obese according to the BMI measurements.

A good sign is that many overweight kindergarteners who enter the school district end up moving toward a more average BMI by the time they finish the eighth grade, Simpson said. She attributes that improvement to the steps being taken by teachers, administrators and health officials.

"Large number of students come in to school overweight and leave eighth grade at a healthy weight," she said. "This is hopeful."