Philadelphia Public Schools Slash Obesity Rates by 5 Percent

Nutrition changes in the Philly school district included free breakfast for all students and a ban on sodas and sugary drinks.

Posted: 09/11/2012 07:11 PM EDT

We all know that childhood obesity isn’t just a national problem, but also an African-American one, too. From 2007 to 2008, African-American children were 30 percent more likely to be overweight than whites, according to the Office of Minority Health. Among white children who are 6-17 years old, 17.4 percent are obese. For Black children, 22.4 percent are obese.

And it’s not just a matter of physical appearance. Overweight and obese children are developing diseases that were once believed to be only for adults — Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

So what can we do about it?

A new study suggests that the city of Philadelphia might be able offer up the answer. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 2006 and 2010, the city of Brotherly Love was able to slash their childhood obesity rates among public school students by 5 percent. 

Researchers also found:

— Rates of obesity dropped in all grades but declined the most in kindergarten through fifth grade (down 6 percent) and grades six through eight (down 4.7 percent). A 2.4 percent drop in grades nine through 12 was not statistically significant.

— Rates of "severe" obesity followed a similar pattern but more so: down 7.7 percent overall.

— Bigger drops were measured among African American males (down 13.8 percent) and Hispanic females (down 10.2 percent).

So what are they doing right?

Philly.com reports that while other areas around the country, such as New York City, Arkansas and California, have had similar results, Philadelphia and its school districts claim that certain changes may have proven beneficial:

The Philadelphia School District, for example, was among the first to remove all sodas and drinks with extra sugar from vending machines, in 2004. District-wide snack standards were developed in 2006; in 2009-10, the district began offering free breakfasts to all students, discontinued the use of fryers, and switched from milk with 2 percent fat to 1 percent.

The city government, meanwhile, banned trans fats in restaurants, mandated nutrition labeling on chain-restaurant menus, and developed incentives for corner stores to offer more fresh produce. Even Mayor Nutter's two failed attempts to pass a soda tax generated intense public discussion of obesity and health.

The study’s authors admit that their results don’t mean that the fight against fat is over, according to Education Week. They wrote, “These data suggest that the epidemic of childhood obesity may have begun to recede in Philadelphia, but unacceptably high rates of obesity and severe obesity continue to threaten the health and futures of many school children."

Learn more about childhood obesity here.


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(Photo: GettyImages)

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